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Beyond the Time-Out: Calming and Coping Tools for Kids and Parents

Parenting is hard. Calming your erratic and emotionally explosive offspring without losing your own temper can be even harder. When a warning doesn’t work, it can be very frustrating and perplexing to reason with a hopped-up toddler. Obviously, we all want our children to be good people. Therefore, we need to teach them limits, healthy boundaries, and how to cope with anger without hitting someone in the face.

From an adult perspective, this is common sense. For our inquisitive and immature toddlers and little ones, it is not. Feelings are feelings.

They’re not good or bad, they’re just feelings. Shaming a child for getting angry teaches them that it’s not ok to feel anything other than happy or peaceful. All humans get angry or sad from time to time. It’s normal. Young children do not yet have the language to effectively convey powerful emotions, which is why they fling themselves on the floor in the grocery store and kick the walls in their bedroom. Teaching our children how to properly cope with emotions in constructive ways helps them to learn how to self-soothe and respect others.

  1. The Calm-Down Jar: Making a Glitter Jar was one of the best things I did for my boys. You can use a glass jar or bottle for older kids, or plastic for younger accident-prone toddlers. Find a quiet space to sit down with your child, hand them the bottle, and let them shake it up. Take deep breaths with them while they watch the glitter settle to the bottom, then ask if they are feeling any calmness in their body. Repeat as long as needed. It’s a great teaching tool, as the swirling glitter represents all of the emotions swirling inside their bodies. It also teaches mindfulness and self-soothing. Here’s a link on how to create your own calm-down jar
  2. Color Your Feelings: First, ask your angry or upset child where they feel the feeling in their body. If they have trouble identifying it, you can suggest things like, “Sometimes when I feel angry, my head hurts”, or “I feel scared in my tummy sometimes” and see if that fits for them. Next, ask your child to choose a color that represents his/her feeling. Red is obviously a popular choice for anger, blue for sadness, but there is no right or wrong.  Sit with them, give them a box of crayons and paper and ask them to color the feelings out.  Scribbling out emotions can alleviate tension in the body by getting it out onto paper and turning it into something tangible. Afterward, they can choose a color that represents a more comfortable, happy feeling. You can also ask them to blow out the uncomfortable feeling by color: “Blow out the sad blue, and breathe in the happy orange” etc.
  3. Deep Breathing: A breathing strategy to soothe hot tempers is blowing up an imaginary balloon. Ask your child to choose their favorite color and imagine that they have a deflated balloon of that color. They will then take all of their anger, frustration, etc from inside and blow it to inflate the imaginary balloon. As they practice deep breathing in through the nose and out the mouth, they use their imagination to blow it as big and into whatever shape they imagine. When they feel as though it is big enough and they’ve blown out the difficult feelings, they can dispose of the imaginary balloon however they see fit in their minds (without hurting themselves or someone else). My boys like to kick it into outer space or sit on it until it pops. 
  4. Mindfulness: Children (usually around age 5 and up) can benefit from learning about and practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice of becoming aware of the present and observing your thoughts and emotions without judgment. This practice is especially effective in dealing with anxiety, improving concentration and focus, and identifying feelings. “Sitting Still Like A Frog” by Eline Snel is a wonderful book full of mindfulness exercises for kids and parents. It comes with a CD of guided exercises for home practice. You can find it on Amazon 

Hopefully, these suggestions will add to your parenting toolbox and give you a few new things to try. And remember, all of these exercises work wonderfully for adults as well. 🙂

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