Children now a days have so much pressure to do their best, look their best, and be their best. They often have busy schedules filled with school, homework and projects, after school sports and activities... the list goes on and on. Having so many demands can increase stress levels in children, so it is important that they have effective ways to manage stress and big emotions.
Below are some helpful tips to help your child regulate his or her emotions and calm down in times of distress.
TIP: I highly recommend teaching these tips to your child when your child is feeling calm and content, so that he or she can absorb the information. You are a role model for your child and practicing these strategies with your child is most effective.
Strategies to Calm Down & Self-Regulate
When children experience big emotions they can become overwhelmed easily. Practicing simple calming strategies can help children recognize their emotions and take control of them.
Deep Belly Breathing
To calm down an anxious, overwhelmed mind and body, it is important to focus on the breath. Anxious, frustrated breathing involves rapid, shallow breaths through the chest. Calm, mindful breathing involves filling up the diaphragm with long, deep breaths. This controlled breathing stimulates the relaxation response in the body and deactivates the anxious, "fight or flight" response.
PRACTICE: Lay down on the floor with your child and put a stuffed animal on each of your stomachs. Guide your child to breathe in deeply through the nose or mouth, sending all the air to the tummy. Watch as the stuffed animal rises as the belly fills with air. Then slowly, breathe out through the mouth and watch the stuffed animal fall. Repeat this a few times to get the hang of it. You can also imagine a balloon filling up with hot air as you breathe in and then deflating as you breathe out.
For Teens: Teens can put one hand on their heart and one hand on their stomach. Guide them to feel their stomach rise and fall as they slowly breathe in and out through the belly.
Encourage children to breathe deeply into their belly, but use a fun visualization this time.
PRACTICE: Have your child hold their hands out in front of them, pretending that they have a pizza in their hands. Have them describe what their pizza looks like and what kind of toppings are on their pizza. Then, instruct them to slowly smell their pizza and notice all of the yummy flavours, as they breathe in through their nose. Their pizza is hot, so now they have to slowly blow on it to cool it down. Repeat this exercise to teach children how to slowly breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. It would be helpful for you to join in and imagine your own pizza, too! Next time, they are feeling uneasy, do this activity alongside them and remind them to slow down and bring up their favourite pizza.
This activity teaches children how to breathe deeply and slowly, while distracting their busy minds with numbers.
PRACTICE: Have your child pick a number from 5 to 20. Then instruct your child to follow along as you both slow down your breathing together. Take a long breath in through the nose, filling up the belly, and a long breath out through the mouth. Then say "one" out loud. Take another deep inhale and a slow exhale, and say "two" out loud. Continue breathing in and out, counting with each set of inhales and exhales until you arrive at the number that your child has chosen.
Written by Vanessa Goodchild, Registered Psychologist
To learn more valuable strategies to help your child regulate his or her emotions, consider booking a parenting session. In these sessions, you will learn specific evidence-based techniques that are tailored for your family's unique situation.