By Catherine Baker Simms, PhD, BCBA-D and Gina Belli, M.Ed
Helping your child to remain calm under stressful situations requires intentional teaching and practice. These skills and abilities allow kids to navigate their lives with greater ease, confidence, and enjoyment, both at home and at school. The Positive Parenting 101 class offered online here at FCI is a great way to learn about these strategies in more depth. These same calming techniques will also be a primary focus during the fall social skills group on coping strategies. In the meantime, here are some quick tips to help you begin to help your child to sharpen these tremendously valuable skills:
- TEACH THEM TO RECOGNIZE KEY PHYSIOLOGICAL SIGNS
When it comes to regulating negative emotions, self-awareness is one of the most important skills kids can develop. If they can learn to recognize the physiological signs of anger, frustration, or other feelings that might cause them to react, they’ll be better able to apply coping strategies to help turn things around. Talk about these physiological signs when your child is feeling calm. Through careful conversation, they can learn to recognize that when their heart begins to race or their palms begin to sweat, for example, they’re experiencing the rise of a challenging emotion.
- TEACH CALMING STRATEGIES WHEN CALM
When a child is emotionally charged, either positively or negatively, their brain is not in the optimal state for learning. This is a big part of the foundation of the positive parenting philosophy. When kids are calm, they actually learn skills faster and more fluently than when they’re aggravated. Therefore, you always want to teach calming techniques and strategies when your child is at their best because they’re more capable of learning them during this time. Also, you’ll want to go over the self-regulatory techniques often to help build the skill.
- LEARN MULTIPLE STRATEGIES/TECHNIQUES
It’s important to teach multiple calming strategies, not just one. Different people will gravitate toward different techniques, and one technique may work better than another in a given situation. So, it helps to expose your child to a handful of options from which they can pick and choose. There are so many fantastic strategies, like progressive muscle relaxation, that are taught through our programming. Also, techniques like deep breathing, taking a walk, or just spending some time with an animal, can be really helpful.
- REMIND THEM OF CALMING STRATEGIES
Once your child has gotten closer to mastering a certain strategy, you can prompt them to use what they’ve learned when you see that they’re starting to get frustrated, but not once the negative emotion is peaking. When they start to get escalated you can point out – “hey, your face is a bit red. You might be frustrated. Use a calming strategy.” The key here is to do the teaching ahead of time. Catching those physiological cues is so important. Over time, your child will learn to recognize those signs more quickly and they may even start to apply calming strategies without your prompting.
- MODEL IT
It’s helpful if you model how to apply some of these techniques yourself. This is true for almost everything when it comes to parenting, as you likely already know. It helps to model whatever it is you want your child to do. If you don’t want your child to lose their temper, but you lose yours, you’re sending a mixed message.
- ACKNOWLEDGE AND REWARD PROGRESS ALONG THE WAY
It’s essential to celebrate accomplishments as you help your child through the process. Reward them in any way you see fit. Just be sure to talk through what they did right and how proud you are of them. Be sure to emphasize how the progress benefited them internally too. Ask your child to talk about how much easier it was to navigate the challenge when they stayed calm. Prompt them to process and understand how these skills make their life a little easier and more fun too.
- BE CONSISTENT
As with just about everything in parenting, it’s so important to be consistent. So, make being consistent a top priority. This requires your time, energy, and patience. But, the rewards are well worth all the efforts.