“Got anything I can smash around here?” asked my daughter with a crinkly face and closed fists.
“I’m bursting with anger!! It’s about the boys you know!! UGH!! I want to smash them you hear me MAMA??!! SMASH THEM. But I walked away! I’m taking a breather! I can’t believe them. Can you? I mean…ugh!!!….” she went on.
Then, as if on auto-pilot, my daughter climbed into my lap. She buried her face into my shoulder and as some big tears streamed, all the tension and anger began to ease up and out of her tiny 5 year old frame. Soon we got up, walked to our calm down basket and picked up a tinker toy. As she held the toy she added angrily, “It’s so hard to have brothers somedays. Seriously mama, you have no idea!”
I never did have older brothers, but I did grow up with three sisters, so I had some idea. I have had lots of honest conversations with my kids about the challenges of being an older, middle or the youngest child. Because sometimes it really is hard to have siblings! Beyond that, we have also talked a lot about why hitting and hurting others is not helpful, and why learning to calm down is an important skill.
Calming Down isn’t Always Easy For Children
Many children find it challenging to recognize their feelings and manage them in a timely way.
It’s quite normal for young children to get so angry or worked up that they might hit, bite, kick or otherwise act out their feelings.
Self-regulation, or being able to manage feelings and behaviors well in these heated moments is a skill that takes time to develop. Much like riding a bike or learning to read, self-regulation is going to take a lot of practice. It will come with a lot of mistakes and confusing moments, possibly with tears, tantrums, aggression and ugly words. Yes, as children learn how to deal with big feelings unhelpful behaviors will show up.
Here is a big key to making these moments happen less and less: Help your child learn how to calm down when they are still calm. This practice can actually go a long way at preventing reactivity and ugly moments when things get more heated up. Like my daughter choosing to sit in my lap instead of smashing her brother’s head!
Calming kits can be an effective positive parenting tool for reducing aggression and encouraging better behavior.
Building a calming kit to keep in your home is a great way to get started with helping children learn to understand and better manage emotions. Beyond limiting behavior, listening and validating your child when emotions run high, offering your child a chance to calm down by playing, tinkering or talking goes a long way.
Here are suggestions for what you can include in your calming kit:
Feelings Charts To Build an Emotional Vocabulary
Especially in the early years, when children are angry or upset, unhelpful behaviors tend to show up quickly. Dr. Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson explain in their book “The Whole Brain Child” that children need to name feelings to tame them. I love this concept, and also see many young children struggling to name, let alone tame frustration, confusion and anger. Practice in this case really makes all the difference. Children with a rich emotional vocabulary do tend to manage their behaviors better. Because having words to express feelings is a big factor in reducing frustration.
Help your child learn the names of many feelings. There are lots of options out there for emotion or feelings posters. My children really like this one from Jellybean Jamboree by Susan Jelleberg. You can look at these any time really, when children are calm to build their understanding of feelings and when they are worked up to better understand what they are going through.
Another wonderful poster is from FEELEZ which also comes with a list of feeling words as well.
Many children need the extra sensory input or a chance to touch and manipulate something in order to get back to calm. A bonus here is that if they are shaping and tinkering there is less chance of a child choosing to hit or lash out. That being said, softer tinker toys, and no breakables are a better choice if you have a child that tends to throw when angry (it’s pretty normal if that is the case, and it can get better!)
Some great tinker toys to keep in a calming basket are stress balls, bendeez, stretching string and silly putty. For a while we used a light bulb squeeze toy (like a stress ball) and my children really liked this. It was a good reminder to work towards solutions instead of staying stuck in anger too.
Depending on your child’s personality, looking at a book alone or together might be really helpful to calming down. Sometimes your child will be far to wound up to concentrate on a book, but other children will even stop mid-tantrum to listen to a story, so follow your child’s lead and see what works for you. Some of our favorite books for calming down / talking about feelings are:
Peaceful Piggy Meditations (Generally helpful in talking about circumstances and choosing how to feel)
Anh’s Anger (Great for encouraging deep breaths)
I Am An Artist (2 and 3 year olds tend to love and relate to this book)
The Day the Crayons Quit (I remember one of my children being confused after our dog died and finding comfort in relating to one of the crayons in this story who felt empty)
Other items that can be helpful to include in a calming kit are:
- paper for tearing or scrunching
- soft cushion
- stuffed animal
- simple puzzles
- coloring books
- massage ball
- papers and markers
Depending on your child’s age, notice what types of toys will be most helpful and safe. While there are lots of options to add to a calming kit, I find children are much more likely to use it if it has just a few items, three or four options is plenty. Don’t forget to allow your child to explore the calming kit items when they are feeling calm and also talk to them about how and when to use the kit to feel better. Keep your kit somewhere your child has access to it as well.
A first and very important step for young children to calm down is reconnecting with you -so whenever possible, try to stay present and help your child weather the emotional storm.
Parents can be a big influence in how children learn to calm down.
Because children are watching us to understand how to navigate emotions and social norms, it’s important to show children that it is possible to stay calm and not over-react even when big, out of bounds feelings & behaviors show up. (Ok sometimes we fail miserably at that…and so will our children. Strive to be patient with yourself and your child and to reconnect when that does happen.)
Beyond a calming kit, you might want to create a calm down plan for the whole family.
A calm down plan helps children know they will always have the option of a safe way for feelings to come up, get processed (crying, giggles, raging, stomping) and accepted. The key is that the child needs to be involved in setting up this plan, and never forced to do so.
Responding calmly to your child, even in the face of misbehavior, and teaching them to recognize and manage emotions is not only a good idea, it is very important step to reducing aggression and anger in the early years. If you are feeling challenged with this at home and want more info on calm down plans check out our newsletter gift right up at the top of the page. When you sign up to our newsletter you can download a comprehensive e-booklet on aggression, anger and calming tools for the early years.
What moments are most challenging for you and your child right now that a calming kit might help with?
Peace & Be Well,
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