You’re stood with your child who is suddenly very emotional. They’re struggling to calm down, in fact they seem to be getting more heightened, and despite your best efforts, you don’t know how to help. It can feel awful, overwhelming and like you’re doing something wrong, especially if you’re not even sure of what’s triggered this response.
Some children like alone time and encouraging them to go to their bedroom might be the best thing you can do. But some children want company, comfort and guidance – even if they don’t seem like they do.
In these moments, you want to be able to help. So, we’ve put together our 5 top tips to help you help your child! Bear in mind, every child is different and if they can, it’s worth having a chat with them whilst they’re calm and regulated about what helps and make a plan together for when they need help.
1 – 54321
This is great for bringing people back to the here and now, to help pull them out of the storm and observe their surroundings for a moment:
Name out loud
5 things you can see
4 things you can touch
3 things you can hear
2 things you can smell
1 thing you can taste
2 – Temperature
By changing our body temperature, we can quickly decrease the intensity of an emotion (do not use if you have cardiac problems)
Change their body temperature by encouraging them to splash their face with cold water, give them ice cubes to hold, get them to stand outside (in winter) or in front of the freezer for a couple of minutes.
Exercising intensely helps our bodies get rid of negative energy that can sometimes be stored from strong emotions. This doesn’t need to be intensely exercising for an hour down the gym – think short bursts of high energy activities!
Try getting them to do 20 jumping jacks on the spot as fast as they can. Maybe they can run some laps around the garden or go for a fast walk around the block with you. Get their body moving and their heart rate up quickly. When they rest, their heart rate decreases and they may feel calmer.
4- Breathing exercises
As with most of these, we are looking at changing something the body is doing when heightened. Often, this is focussed on decreasing heart rate or slowing the breathing. Breathing exercises can be really helpful for this as they bring control back to their breathing and give their mind something to focus on.
Breathe in deeply through your nose for four seconds, feel this air filling up your stomach. Hold for four seconds. Then breathe out through your mouth for six seconds. Repeat for 1 – 2 minutes.
5 – Progressive muscle relaxation
This one might be best to try at the first signs of dysregulation or as a supporting technique after one of the above has been used because it does need some ability to listen. Naturally, when emotionally heightened or dysregulated, our bodies tense up and it can be hard to physically relax as well as mentally. This can also be really good to incorporate into any routine where you want to encourage relaxation in your child.
Sit or lay down and close your eyes. Start with your toes, tense them up and scrunch them together as much as your can. Hold it for five seconds, and then relax your toes. Move up to your calves and do the same thing, tense them as hard as you can for five seconds and then relax the muscle. Slowly move up each individual part of the body until you reach the head, repeating the same action of tensing for five seconds and then relaxing.
Written by Hazel Scott, Specialist Neurodevelopmental Practitioner, Makewell Clinic