3 Calming Strategies For Kids When They Hit The Wall & Fall Into A Total Panic

Who is this Kid?

Your child doesn’t reach out to a friend for weeks yet expects that friendship to resume right where it left off.

Your child rolls their eyes when you say that 7th grade was hard for you too.

Your shy child prefers to hibernate and tells you that this virtual life is better for them, yet you know they are hiding and opting out.

Your child is irritable from the minute she appears in the kitchen yet can’t express why.

This behavior probably leaves you wondering how to handle it, how to remain calm and how to help your child who may melt down if you broach the topic.

FightFlightFreeze response

F3 or the FightFlightFreeze response is the body’s automatic, built-in system designed to protect us from threat or danger. In fight, flight or freeze, your body’s chemistry changes because your body is in a defensive cascade and you are reactive and may not be able to access your thinking self.

The body’s internal alarm will continue to go off until something changes. In order to help your child bring their arousal level down and return to feeling safe, you must let your body know that there is no threat and that things are ok.

3 Calming Strategies for Kids

  1. calming strategies for kidsPause, Step away from the situation or find a place to use strategies—PAUSE encourages children to STOP irregular behavior and access the prefrontal cortex, allowing them to utilize their logical thought processes before acting. The power of the PAUSE is that it connects children with their prefrontal cortex and allows them to rationally observe highly charged emotional situations. By pausing, children can accomplish the following tasks:
    • Breathe and connect to their prefrontal cortexes, allowing them to use their logical thought processes.
    • Calm down and get a hold of their emotions.
    • Boss their bodies and stop any physical movement that may be causing problems.
    • Think of solutions to their upsetting problems or situations.

    calming strategies for kidsIf you plan on using PAUSE with your child, I’d suggest creating a visual cue or code word. The PAUSE button symbol (I got this concept from David Giwerc of ADDCA) seems to be very popular with kids, and I often print them out and laminate them for younger children, who like the physicality of “pushing” the PAUSE button. Older kids may prefer a code word or phrase, such as “Please take a moment to pause.”

  2. Respond with strategies – Ideally you and your child will have discovered strategies that have induced calm before. Some possibilities include exercise such as jumping jacks, running up stairs or doing push ups for 15 minutes increase serotonin and dopamine; Inhaling a scent that calms you; breathing until you reach a calmer state; Petting an animal until you feel the wise self return.
  3. Wait until calm returns – Don’t try to dish out solutions while your child is in this state. As the parent, you can pause and take a break. Trying to problem solve and get your point across, if your child in unable to listen, can cause more harm.

I recommend you print these strategies for immediate use if your child hits the wall and falls into panic. Another options is to have a key word you can say your child is in fight, flight or freeze mode and may not be able to think things out yet needs to implement strategies.

DO This At Home!

For scripts, tools, advice and actionable exercises on helping children develop social skills, check out Why Will No One Play with Me?

Why Does My Kid Think He Knows Better Than The Adult?

You may not feel you needed to be told that arguing with adults is a social faux pas but if your child does not understand the dynamic, then coaching him to understand how his behavior impacts others, and how other people feel when he argues can help him learn important social skills for a lifetime.

Your Child Thinks He Knows Better Than the Adult

Parents often tell me that their child’s social behavior is baffling. Their child will get on their hind-legs and speak back to authority figures. The parent insists this is not how the child was raised and that their siblings don’t behave in this manner.

What Your Teacher Tells You

In yet another email, your child’s teacher details another troubled interaction. He had an yet another outburst your child insisted she knows better and was unable to self-soothe or settle down.  You have had parent-teacher meetings, with and without your child, as well as numerous discussions at home. Nothing changes.

What Your Child Tells You

“I wasn’t talking out of turn. My teacher just doesn’t like me.”

Try as you might, your child remains oblivious to his behaviour. In her mind, she was just stating facts. When the teacher asked her to settle down, she felt that her opinion would be ignored.

Consider that your child’s perspective doesn’t take into account stepping into her teachers shoes and understanding how the teacher feels.

It’s About Perspective

Your child doesn’t have the capacity to understand how they come across. Perspective into our own behavior and choices allows us to recognize social cues. Their intentions are good, but they don’t really know how to tune in and “walk in the other person’s shoes.”

Your child has no reason or desire to be “bad” or uncaring. Their intentions are good, but they can struggle with interpreting social cues.

4 Proven Coaching Techniques to Build  Greater Awareness and Perspective

The techniques below are used by professional coaches that parents can tailor for home use.

Open Questions

This coaching technique eliminates a lot of unnecessary friction. Rather than telling your child, “You need to stop arguing with your teachers,” instead ask, “How do you think your teacher feels when you speak out of turn? What impression did you mean to make? What made what you had to say so important? How can you say this without seeming to argue?” This allows your child to consider others’ thoughts and how their behavior can negatively or positively affect others.

Open-ended questions use the words who, what, when, where, how, and why. It can be beneficial to have your child look at your face and interpret what you are currently feeling.

No matter what the answer is, even if it’s a shrug and an, “I don’t know,” continue to ask him, “What was the appropriate behavior?This begins to help the child think about what the unspoken social rules were and what they are expected to do in the future.

On an ongoing basis – as when driving in the car -and on the spot when the child is rude or dismissive, ask him open-ended questions that allow him to reflect on his actions and how they might make other people feel.

2. Become a Social Observer

To help your child stop arguing and build awareness, introduce the concept of social spy.  Social spies observe people in different settings and then record their observations about social cues including, vocal volume, tone, eye contact, physical presence, interrupting, arguing, etc.

Here is how it works;  Go to a public place, hotel lobby, book store, mall. Watch and notice the social cues and identify what unspoken rules the environment dictates. discuss both of your observations and create an image of positive social behavior to navigate toward and .

3. The Polite Pretend

Your child may dislike being “bored”, and may act out in the classroom, leading to outbursts or just checking out altogether. Some will provoke and argue with the teacher to be funny or get a reaction from friends. Rather than lecturing your child, ask him what happened in the specific situation. Start by saying, “I’ve noticed that you sometimes struggle to stop arguing with your teacher and I understand you don’t mean to be disrespectful.

Remain neutral and calmly discuss why pretending to be polite is necessary. Talk to him about things that do not interest him and this dilemma of being polite. Rather than just telling him, work together to discuss the benefits or being polite and figure out polite ways to react when a conversation feels boring or when he’s too tired to participate in the conversation. Be sure to also work on tone to avoid sounding dismissive and argumentative.

4. Reading the Room

In each environment, there are expectations and unspoken rules. To present the best face to the world, you have to decipher those expectations by reading the room. Before entering a room or gathering, help your child pause, observe and tune into the participants, energy and discussion before jumping in.

DO This At Home!

There are Lots of Ways to Build Social Skills at Home.

Children who can’t stop arguing and therefore tend to dominate conversations, can learn to be able to interpret and consider the feelings of others. It’s a journey, and consistency is the key. Parents should find comfort in knowing that all children benefit from patient and nurturing parents and the open-ended questions technique is well suited to parents who wish to help their children turn social struggles into positive outcomes.

For scripts, tools, advice and actionable exercises on helping children develop social skills, check out Why Will No One Play with Me?

Deep Dive

10 Ways to Teach Your Child Social Skills in Daily Life

What do we do when our child is a bossy rule follower?

 

How Can I Get My Kid To Listen & Do What He’s Told Without A Constant Battle Of Wills?

Many of us struggle when our child does not take “good advice” or barely turns to look at us when we speak. You know that part of the problem getting out the door or completing chores and other tasks is that your child does not listen. But when you suggest this is something she needs to work on- she ignores you, or the discussion ends in a melt down. And asking for simple things like putting shoes away so grandma does not trip seems to devolve into a battle.

Social Emotional Learning
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If you are struggling to get your child to listen, it may be because of something you hadn’t thought of.

Is It Stubbornness or Something Else?

Many parents feel that their child is purposely not listening to them. Are they are getting a payoff for being stubborn or selfish? This is a very common thought, albeit, a possible misconception. Sure, your child may occasionally be stubborn or selfish, but more often, it is the result of a lack of skills. Research shows that it is brain-based “executive function” skills that hold him back—not willfulness or laziness.

Executive Function Lag

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If you want to get your kid to listen, you may need to consider her skills.  Executive function is the brain’s hub of skills such as memory, organization, planning, self-regulation and the ability to modify our behavior in response to others. When these skills lag, advice about pushing through, trying harder and just making it happen do not apply. In fact, such blaming and shaming only make matters worse.

How to Interpret Your Child’s Behavior

The idea that a child “would if he could” is an important distinction. In this lens of looking at your child’s behavior, you can remind yourself that his skills are not strong enough to curb the impulse.  Once your child begins to develop the executive function skills necessary—whether it’s a small step in getting homework done or managing big emotions—his successes will motivate him to do more. Rather than assume your child isn’t trying, or isn’t trying hard enough, look for the small wins.

Consider What Really Listening Looks Like

Listening means showing interest in the other person’s feelings and opinions, being curious and offering a shoulder to relieve their suffering. Neutralize the conversation by using reflective listening. This simply means recapping what they said and translating it back to ensure th message was delivered correctly. This works in person and virtually.

Modeling Goes a Long Way

As you speak with your family, make eye contact and check your body language and facial expressions.  Schedule your activities around family dinners.  When you interact with your child, try to avoid interrupting or simply be listening for your chance to jump in to speak your opinion.

Reflective Listening

Identify what your child if feeling by using reflective listening. Inquire how they would rather handle directions and the things you need them to do? Collaborate. There may be a voice in your head that says you never needed this kind of communication, but being more collaborative can help lower all the tensions in the house. Also consider what are your expectations around “doing what he is told?” Would it be ok if he set a time to take out the garbage? This is not easy but having a more neutral conversation, talking about the problem and asking for her perspective can help everyone communicate better.

Practice Listening as a Family

Share with the whole family that you feel like all of your listening skills have gotten rusty. As a game, bring out a timer and ask each family member – don’t single one child out – to listen for one hour. Encourage everyone to look each other in the eye when they talk, and model the same behavior.  Keep it fun , incentivize it with a small prize or privilege do everyone keeps practicing.

Work Together

Acknowledge that your child has areas in which he needs skill development. Support him in managing his emotions by helping him pause and read the room, transition slowly between activities and create routines. Collaborate on strategies you both think will help. Until they learn to do more on their own, they will continue to need you not just for academics but for social emotional learning too.

For scripts, tools, advice and actionable exercises on helping children develop social skills, check out Why Will No One Play with Me?

Deeper Dive:

Learn more about Social Skills Development

Watch video on building Social Skills 

 

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