We’ve all been there before, face to face with our child, locking horns, emotions escalating.
You want her to take the much-needed nap. Clearly, she is tired … her big yawns and droopy eyes say so. And honestly, you want a break … a moment all to yourself where no one is touching or needing you.
She has different plans. Five more minutes of play. Another drink. Another story. Your little Houdini is finding every possible opportunity to slip through the cracks of naptime.
As you both stand your ground, you feel your frustration reaching explosive levels. Despite your daughter’s overflowing tears, the only thing that feels instinctual at that moment is to yell, “JUST GO TO SLEEP ALREADY!”
Pausing, you realize, however, that the only way through this with both parties intact is to regulate together. So instead of commanding sleep, you mentally go to your toolbox and pull out a calming tool, not only to help your child but to help walk you off the ledge you’re teetering, too. While it may take a few more minutes to implement, it's much less time than an ongoing power struggle, and much more enjoyable.
5 Calming Strategies To Do With Your Kids
1. Breathe like an animal
While we breathe every moment of every day, intentional breathing can shift a moment. Here are a few playful breathing techniques to try with your kiddo either face to face or sitting back to back:
- Breathe like a lion to energize the body and release stress. To do this, sit on the floor or stand, leaning forward a little bit so your hands can brace on your knees. Take a big breath through your nose and then open your mouth wide, stick out your tongue, and forcefully breathe out, making a “ha” sound.
- Breathe like a bumblebee to calm the body by feeling the vibrations of your own breath. Begin in a seated position, sitting up tall. Place your thumbs to your ears and your hands over your eyes. Take a big breath in through your nose. Make a buzzing sound as you slowly exhale.
- Breathe like a bunny to help catch your breath when crying or feeling big emotions. Sniff, Sniff, Sniff (inhales), followed by a slow exhale. Now you’ve done a bunny breath! This invigorating breathing technique wakes up the brain and allows for energy and focus, getting your child ready for learning.
2. Get outside
Nature has a calming effect all on its own. Sometimes getting out of your environment to surround yourself with other living elements of earth, even if just for a few minutes, can transform a mood state. One way to bring you into the “now” moment and outside of your power struggle is nature’s noticing game. It goes like this:
- What do you see? Watch clouds floating by, the squirrels in the trees, or the cars as they pass by.
- What do you hear? Listen for the birds, the rustling of leaves, or the crickets of tree frogs.
- What do you feel? Walk barefoot in the grass or feel it with your hands, touch different textures (something rough like tree bark or smooth like a rock), and feel the wind in your hair.
- What do you smell? Maybe you smell crisp air or the dew of rain. Or maybe you smell your neighbor BBQing or fragrant flowers.
- What do you taste? Can you taste the air, or maybe there are edible plants such as clover nearby?
3. Count heartbeats
When we get into our bodies, we are better able to step out of the moment that is causing us anger, stress, or discomfort. One way to do this is to feel (for younger kids) or count (for older kids) heartbeats.
- Ask your child to place their hand on their heart and feel/count the beats while you do the same with your heart.
- Place your hand on your child’s heart while she places her hand on yours, and feel the beats together.
4. Take a Time-In
By taking a Time-In, you and your child can pause to notice big emotions and then focus on calming strategies that engage the senses. This helps both of you shift out of brainstem behaviors and into higher parts of the brain wired for receptivity, connection, and learning. Here are some sensory ideas to try during your time-in:
- Wrap yourselves up in a blanket like a burrito.
- Hug a SnuggleBuddies and use the feeling emojis to talk about how you feel.
- Pull a mantra card.
- Yell your anger into a pillow or stomp it into the ground.
- Crawl like a bear, jump, or spin.
- Do push-ups on the wall.
5. Do something unexpected
Sometimes just taking the lead and doing something out of the ordinary can bring the silly or play and help us transition away from unpleasant emotions and into a state where we can listen, validate, and compromise.
- Pretend to be an animal.
- Just start laughing or making silly faces.
- Make up a mad/sad/angry dance or song.
- Reach out and offer a hug or smile to your child.
- Sometimes just saying “I love you” in the midst of big emotions can help everyone shift. Try saying it loud, saying it quietly, or saying it without words (sign it, blink it, or write it in a note).
Back to the bed battle above, after a few bumblebee breaths, an “I love you,” and some snuggly giggles in her time-in space, the move to bed happens. Why? Not because you regulated alone, but because you regulated together (co-regulation). Like adults, children are wired with wants, desires, and needs. Unlike adults, they don’t yet have the skills to regulate them. They need guidance from us to grow that part of the brain responsible for emotional regulation. And that’s exactly what these calming breaks do … for you and your child. When you connect brain to brain and heart to heart, you and your kiddo both win.