When you need a child to calm down because they have become angry, frustrated or out of control, the key to success is … not telling them to “calm down.”

That’s right. Think about how you, as an adult, react when someone tries this tactic on you. The reason for not doing it is simple: It doesn’t work.

Instead, turn to more respectful, results-oriented communication. By helping a child to work through their feelings, you can give them the needed confidence to express themselves, while teaching them to deal with tough situations on their own.

Why “Calm Down” Fails

Helping children to calm down is wonderful – and teaching them to achieve calm is even better. But simply telling them to calm down is ineffective.

  • Using the words “calm down” conveys the message that a child is not allowed to experience anger, frustration or other intense emotions. A more effective strategy is to help kids achieve
  • It’s difficult and it takes patience. But teaching children coping skills and how to calm themselves will achieve the results you – and the child – need. You’ll get better at it with practice. Eventually, it will become second nature and in the end, everyone will benefit.

What to Do

Tell a child what you want them to do, versus what not to do. Coaching instructions or suggestions in positive language is very useful as a communication strategy with persons of any age group, especially children.

  • We all think with imagery, children even more so than adults. “Please walk straight along the sidewalk” paints a very different mental picture than “Don’t run in the street.” The word “don’t” is a modifier that is very weak compared to the strong image created by the rest of the phrase.
  • By telling a child exactly what you want of them, there isn’t any assuming, figuring or language processing that needs to occur prior to an action. The child understands exactly what you are expecting. By contrast, “calm down” is a phrase that requires a great deal of processing, in addition to the prerequisite knowledge of how to physically achieve calm.

Alternatives to “Calm Down”

Try these alternatives as you provide children with the right tools to choose to do things in a wiser, less damaging way:

  • Offer an alternative. “I see that you’re having a hard time. Let me help. Take a deep breath.”
  • Acknowledge and name the feeling. “I can tell that you’re so mad. How does that feel? Okay, now let’s try counting to 10.”
  • Encourage communication. “Tell me about it.”
  • Work with the child. “Let’s take a minute by ourselves so we can calm our anger” or “Let’s work on fixing the problem together.”
  • Conclude by planning for the next time a child loses control. “If this happens again, what could you do, instead of throwing a toy?”

Like all aspects of your school-based therapy practice, working with challenging situations requires time, patience – and the expert advice you need to keep your day and your career on track. The team of professionals at Cobb Pediatric Therapy Services can help. Contact us today to hear more about what we can do for you.


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