Knowing how to keep calm in emotionally difficult situations is an important life skill that’s never too early to learn. Even if you don’t feel you’ve mastered it yourself, you can still help your child manage their stress levels – and perhaps improve your own stress management in the process. Educational psychologist Lisa Gupta lends her top tips for parents.
Children and young people face many stresses, which can include school-related things such as exams, homework, friendship difficulties and bullying, or possibly parental break up and moving house. When children are stressed, you may notice increased levels of anger and temper tantrums or withdrawal and anxious behaviours, as well as problems sleeping.
Learning how to relax and calm down is a key skill in learning to deal with stress, no matter what age you are. However, it is a skill that requires regular practice, so instilling this knowledge in your child now will help them learn early on how to face stressful situations in a healthy way. Here are a few areas to consider when helping your child learn the skills needed to keep calm:
1. Be a role model for keeping calm
Look carefully at how you deal with stressful situations and your own response to anger/anxiety. Try to model a calm response to your child and give reassuring statements like “I felt quite nervous before that, but managed to stay calm and that helped.” Avoid generalisations such as “he’s just like me...I have a short fuse”. Create a positive self-belief in your child that behaviour can change, and praise your child when they have coped well.
2. Identify the anxiety triggers
Step back from the situation and try to notice any patterns in your child’s behaviour and any factors that trigger anger or anxiety. Notice if you deal with their behaviour calmly and consistently.
3. Increase awareness of feelings
If your child is old enough, try to label the feeling (angry, upset, nervous etc.) and identify any physical changes that happen when they feel like this (e.g., feeling hot and sweaty, heart racing, etc.).
4. Teach calming techniques
A range of very simple techniques can be very effective when trying to calm down and relax:
Try to identify which of these techniques your child finds most helpful, and have that be their own way of calming down.
5. Practise as frequently as possible
Once they have chosen one of these calming down techniques, keep practising it as often as possible both in situations where they feel calm and relaxed, and in situations when they feel stressed. Your child can practise alongside you, and slowly move on to more independent use. Have visual reminders (e.g., a picture on the fridge) or use a non-verbal cue (e.g., holding up five fingers) to help your child remember to use their chosen technique. You can also create a chart to record when they have used it (e.g., “I can use my counting breath when I feel angry”), and work towards a reward.
Lisa Gupta is an independent educational psychologist with over 17 years’ experience working in a range of authorities and settings, and is a qualified yoga teacher and has taught yoga in schools. Lisa has used her combined experience to develop the Let’s Chill CD programmes, which systematically teach children and young people how to relax and calm down.