Body, Mind & Spirit

6 Mindful Ways to Help Riled-Up Kids Calm Down

Published on November 25, 2016

Article by Elizabeth Hurchalla for Bodhi Tree

When your kids are staging World War III over who gets the biggest snickerdoodle in the cookie jar, it can be tough to keep your own cool, never mind help your kids reach a peace accord. But fortunately, there are ways to encourage mindfulness in children, even when their tempers are raging. Here are six tips to help kids find the calm amid the storm.

6 Mindfulness Tips to Help Your Child Remain Calm

1. Stay cool, even when your child is anything but.

Don’t try to have a rational conversation when your kids can’t handle that, warns Rachel Donaldson, LCSW, a Los Angeles–based psychotherapist who’s certified in mindfulness-based stress reduction. “The more we can maintain our own calm and regulate ourselves, the better they’re able to regulate as well,” she explains. “If we escalate, they just escalate more.” So give them a few minutes to chill before you engage. Bonus: Those few minutes can help you calm down, too.

2. Use the power of touch.

Connecting physically is key, says Ba Luvmour, headmaster of the Summa Academy, a school in Portland, Oregon, that supports the emotional, social, physical, intellectual and spiritual growth of its students. “A five-year-old doesn’t know the effect of his body yet,” Luvmour continues, “so if he hits someone, I might just touch his arm, hold it in place for 30 seconds and say, ‘That’s a little too hard. Let’s take a breath. What’s going on?’” Parents tend to use prohibitive language like, ‘Don’t hit!’ but it doesn’t mean the same thing to kids, according to Luvmour. “All the child hears is, ‘I’m bad and Mom’s uptight.’”

3. Ask, don’t tell.

When a child starts acting out, Luvmour often sits quietly with them with very little interaction for a couple of minutes. Then he asks, “‘You were doing great, but then you started bothering other people—how did you go from A to B?’ It’s about allowing the space for kids to practice self-reflection and self-knowledge.”

4. Help them figure out what calms them down.

Donaldson suggests asking, “What helps you feel peaceful?” before—not during—a meltdown. It might be feeling their feet on the ground, or taking a big breath like they’re going to blow up a balloon. That helps children create anchors, things they can pay attention to that can help them cope with stress. That way, when they’re upset, you can say in a calm voice, “Let’s feel our feet on the ground,” or “Let’s take a few breaths. It’s going to be OK.”

What if they’re not sure what calms them? Donaldson says, “Try giving suggestions: ‘When I’m upset, I like to take a big breath and put my hand on my belly to calm down. What does that feel like to you?’ Or you might say in a loving, curious way, ‘I noticed when you had a hard time before, you played Legos. Was that helpful?’” That gives them the chance to recognize what works for them. You can also ask what they need. For instance, says Donaldson, “‘When I’m crying, I need a hug. Do you want a hug, or do you want me to just stand next to you?’

5. Teach kids about the brain.

“It’s empowering for even young kids to know how their brains work,” says Donaldson, referring to the work of Daniel Siegel, MD and Tina Payne Bryson, PhD regarding the “upstairs” and “downstairs” brain. The downstairs brain, or limbic system, is responsible for the fight-or-flight response that keeps us safe, while the upstairs brain, or frontal lobe, regulates our emotions. When they’re calm, you can teach kids to use breath or body awareness to connect the two areas and regain balance when they’re upset. For example, “You can help kids realize that they need a moment to breathe, or lean against a wall, or put their hands in the air—whatever they’ve found calms them down,” explains Donaldson. “When the upstairs brain goes offline (e.g., during a tantrum) kids feel out of control, and it can be scary. But you can normalize that by explaining what’s happening inside them and telling them it’s OK to be angry sometimes—that’s a part of life.”

6. Notice the positive.

When he sees kids cooperating with each other, Luvmour might comment, “‘Wow, you guys are getting along. What’s going on?’ They’ll look at me like, ‘Huh? People usually notice when we’re not getting along,’ then say, ‘Well, we both like Pokemon,’ or jumping rope, or whatever. I’ll say, ‘OK, interesting. What else did you discover about each other?’” Even if these kids often clash, this gives them the chance to recognize the qualities in each other they do like.

Using mindfulness techniques to address behavior issues not only helps to increase the peace within your home, but it also helps increase the peace within your kids. So the next time you have a battle on your hands, take a deep breath—and help your kids do the same.


father with child on pier

Published on: November 25, 2016

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