- The Do’s and Don’ts for Resolving ADHD Temper Tantrums
- What Not to Do: The “Don’ts” for Managing ADHD Temper Tantrums
- How to React: The “Do’s” for Managing ADHD Temper Tantrums
- Finding the Right Balance for “Do’s” and “Don’ts” for Managing ADHD Temper Tantrums
- ADHD & Kids: 9 Tips to Tame Tantrums
- 50 Calm-Down Ideas to Try with Kids of All Ages
- Calming Children: Self Calming Strategies
- Calming Children with Self-Calming Strategies
- Step 1: Don’t Give In
- Step Two: Identifying Calm Vs. Upset
- Step Three: Teaching Calming Strategies when Calm
- Step Four: Make a Calming Strategies Board and Practice
- Step Five: Practice the Calming Strategies When Your Child is Upset
- Where to Find More Info:
- More Resources for Speech-Language Pathologists:
- How to Help Children Calm Down
- What is dysregulation?
- Rethinking emotions
- Model managing difficult feelings
- Validate your child’s feelings
- Active ignoring
- Positive attention
- Clear expectations
- Give options
- Coping ahead
- Problem solving
- Five special minutes a day
- Keep Calm and Breathe Om: 7 ADHD Relaxation Techniques
- ADHD Relaxation Techniques to Help Calm You on Frantic Days
- Practice Deep Breathing
- Try Journaling
- Learn Meditation
- Maintain Boundaries
- Take an Exercise Break
- Use ADHD Relaxation Techniques as You Go About Your Regular Day
- Living with – Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Ways to cope
The Do’s and Don’ts for Resolving ADHD Temper Tantrums
Few things can ruin an afternoon as quickly as ADHD temper tantrums. You could be enjoying a nice afternoon at home or out shopping at the store and the dreaded meltdown can strike. No place is safe, and many times, it seems like you can do little to see the chaos coming. As a result, you really need to know what to do if your ADHD child throws a tantrum in public or at home.
We do know that most ADHD tantrums have a trigger, which sets things off. If you know your child well, you most likely know most of what triggers the worst breakdowns. Knowing when a tantrum might strike, though, only gets you so far. To complete the picture, though, you also need to understand how to respond once the meltdown begins.
We’ve brought together some of the best “do’s” and “don’ts” for responding to ADHD temper tantrums. While different personalities will affect some of how you respond, these general tips can provide a good place to begin. We’ll start with strategies on how not to respond. We’ll then finish with the best strategies for what to do to resolve ADHD temper tantrums.
What Not to Do: The “Don’ts” for Managing ADHD Temper Tantrums
Many times when we find ourselves in a chaotic or upsetting situation, we tend to react instinctively. For many parents, the most chaotic upsetting situations they can imagine would be the public meltdown. When out at the store or in a restaurant, the temper tantrum from your child can cause embarrassment, stress, and anger. When caught in the moment, though, most of the time, the last thing you want to do is respond instinctively.
In order to respond positively, you need to know what to avoid in your response. For that reason, let’s start with looking at the “don’ts” of ADHD temper tantrums. You should try to avoid the following things when a meltdown begins—
Don’t Get Angry
The first “don’t” for resolving ADHD temper tantrums is that you can’t get angry. Our natural response when faced with a disobedient child might be to respond in anger. Anger, though, rarely resolves anything quickly or well.
While anger does have a purpose and an appropriate environment, that appropriate place isn’t in the midst of a tantrum. What your child needs from you as a parent is to know that you are in control and can provide safety for them. They need to feel love and support. Anger, though, usually communicates the opposite. Instead of telling your child that you love them, anger teaches them to either fear or resent you.
If you find that you get angry when your child throws a fit, get some help in working through those emotions. Many times an angry response comes from feelings you have outside the immediate situation. We all need to learn more ways to help keep our anger in check.
If you find that you get angry often, even with slight infractions, seek out a friend or counselor to talk through your emotions. Make sure that your anger towards your child isn’t displaced anger from other events in your life.
Don’t Get Emotional
The main thing to help resolve ADHD temper tantrums involves you, as the parent, remaining calm and rational. You might have more feelings about your child’s behavior beyond anger, but in the moment you need to do what you can to keep those emotions out of your response. Most of the time, in the heat of the moment, emotions do more to cloud your thinking than they do to help resolve anything.
Screaming, crying, or complaining how your child ruins everything just alerts your child that they have some control over your response. You never want to communicate this when faced with a meltdown. If your child believes, even for a moment, that their behavior has gotten to you, they will go back to that behavior again, making tantrums more frequent.
Instead of giving into emotions, keep a calm blank face and speak in a normal calm tone of voice. If you find you can’t do this right away that’s ok. You can take a moment to compose yourself. Close your eyes or turn your back to your child to do this. This both helps hide your emotional response as well as demonstrates your control over the situation.
Don’t Get Even
Sometimes we as parents want to get back at our kids. We think our kids have embarrassed us so we should now embarrass them and teach them a lesson. More often than not, though, the only lesson our kids learn in those moments is that we as parents can behave immaturely as well.
Getting even, or trying to embarrass our kids, never helps with resolving ADHD temper tantrums. Instead of getting even, we, as parents, need to focus on finding an effective solution instead. Don’t dwell on how much your child has embarrassed or disrespected you. While these things do matter, you, as the adult, still must rise above the petty response for a response that will help the situation and your child.
Your child behaves immaturely because they are young and immature. As the adult, you have to behave like the adult and not respond instinctively or simply to get even.
If you find that this always appears as your first response, practice some techniques to calm yourself down. For instance, try counting slowly to 10 before responding at all. Alternatively, you could take several deep breaths or step away for a moment before coming back. Do whatever you can to avoid responding in a way simply to get even with your child.
How to React: The “Do’s” for Managing ADHD Temper Tantrums
Now that we have an understanding of what not to do when a meltdown occurs, we now need to get strategies for an appropriate reaction. Learning how to manage ADHD temper tantrums appropriately takes both time and patience. In the midst of a meltdown, emotions tend to run high. We, as parents, still want to respond quickly, and possibly irrationally, in order to make the behavior stop quickly.
We need to be careful, though, in how we respond. While some responses might seem to work in the short-term, overall they can make the behavior worse and the tantrums more frequent. The following include some great recommendations on exactly what to do when ADHD temper tantrums occur.
Do Get Prepared
Like the Boys Scouts, parenting’s motto needs to be always be prepared. Parenthood presents so many opportunities for things to go different from planned. This means that no matter where you go with your children, you need to always be prepared. Prepared for what? Prepared for the worst to happen.
Whether you go shopping or plan to go to dinner, you need to prepare for managing ADHD temper tantrums. The first part of planning ahead involves simply getting yourself in the right frame of mind. If you believe that everything must go perfectly all the time, then you don’t have the right frame of mind. Instead you need to mentally think about things going badly and a meltdown happening with your child. Having the frame of mind that everything will go well makes it almost certain that you will respond poorly when the meltdown happens.
Secondly, you need to know your child’s triggers and know ways to divert them if a meltdown seems imminent. You know your child better than almost anyone. You more than likely know what sets them off most. Think of those situations and try to avoid them when you go out. If avoidance isn’t possible, then bring along something that you can use to redirect them if you have to.
Finally, to always be prepared, you need to always have a backup plan. Having kids means making sacrifices. Some environments will simply set your child off. Perhaps, your child feels uncomfortable or out of place and they respond with a tantrum. As a parent, you might have to simply make the sacrifice and leave the event that you’re at or take a substantial timeout to give your child more attention.
Do Get Calm and Clear
For an ADHD temper tantrum episode to calm down, cooler heads need to prevail. You as the parent need to lead this shift from chaos to calm. Many times your child throws a temper tantrum in order to test your control over the situation. They want to force their will by testing your response.
As a result, how you respond impacts how quickly you can resolve a meltdown. When your child starts a tantrum, you need to demonstrate you have complete control over the situation. You display this through your demeanor, and what you say and how you say it.
When ADHD temper tantrums occur, you need to stand up straight and look your child in the eyes. Speak in a clear and calm voice and tell your child directly that their behavior is unacceptable. Give your child clear examples of why their behavior is inappropriate and tell them exactly the consequences for continued disobedience.
Through responding in a calm and clear manner, you can more quickly resolve ADHD temper tantrums. Your child will naturally feed off your emotions and actions. If you behave irrationally and angry, the tantrum might just get worse. On the other hand, if you respond in a calm way, your child might start to calm down as well.
Do Get Loud
In addition to testing your control, another driving force of temper tantrums is to get out feelings. As parents, we shouldn’t fight against this motivation. We all need to express our emotions, good, bad, or indifferent.
Additionally, we need to teach our children appropriate ways of dealing with the emotional symptoms of ADHD. Our bodies need us to get out and express emotions in order to reduce stress and tension. When we don’t get our emotions, they don’t go away. Instead we bury them letting them grow and fester until we explode.
ADHD temper tantrums are an unhealthy way of releasing feelings and emotions. In responding to the meltdown, you don’t want to teach your child that expressing emotions is wrong. Instead, you want to redirect the incorrect expression to a correct manner and time for expression.
After you have resolved the immediate tantrum, give your child a time and place to get their feelings out. When you get back home, tell your child they can express themselves in their room at an appropriate time. Let them yell to let their emotions out. Demonstrate it for them if helpful. Be sure to emphasize that they can get loud and scream, but only in appropriate settings. Reinforce this idea by reminding them when a tantrum occurs and redirecting them towards appropriate releases of emotion.
Do Get Help
Finally, to appropriately manage ADHD temper tantrums in the long run, you need to get help. Help can come in a number of ways and from a number of sources. One great source of help can come from other parents of ADHD children.
Other parents can provide a wealth of knowledge and resources for what to do in meltdown situations. If you don’t already belong to a neighborhood or online support group for parents of ADHD children, you should seek out one now. Refer to local community resources for local groups or look online at articles like this or this one for online communities.
A second great source of help should come from family and friends. You should let your immediate circle of support in on the situation. Let them know the triggers for your child and what tends to set them off. Ask your friends and family to try to help reinforce your tantrum management strategy when they are around your kids.
Lastly, a final source of help for managing ADHD temper tantrums can come from professionals who see your child. This could include your family doctor and any teachers or counselors in your child’s life. Ask them for advice if you see an increase in the number of tantrums. They may have suggestions on additional behavioral management strategies or recommendations for medicine or other approaches.
Finding the Right Balance for “Do’s” and “Don’ts” for Managing ADHD Temper Tantrums
As a parent, you quickly learn that parenting exposes all your failures and weaknesses. No matter how successful you are in business or in other areas of life, you will find a lot of failures in yourself when you try to parent. Many first time parents would undoubtedly agree that they have never encountered something quite as hard as parenting.
All this is to say that you probably won’t get managing ADHD temper tantrums down on your first try. You will have some successes and some failures. Some days you will feel terribly defeated, while other days you will feel that you do everything right.
The key, though, should be continual growth. Continue to work towards improving and getting more resources. You won’t get it right immediately, but with practice, soon enough you will find the right balance between the “do’s” and “don’ts” and will soon manage ADHD temper tantrums like a professional.
ADHD & Kids: 9 Tips to Tame Tantrums
In kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), impulsivity manifests in many different ways.
“Kids can impulsively run into the street. They can hit another student in line at school. They can climb up on the roof and jump off, hoping to fly like Superman,” said Terry Matlen, ACSW, a psychotherapist and author of Survival Tips for Women with AD/HD.
And they can have tantrums. There are many reasons why kids with ADHD have meltdowns. For instance, “for many children with ADHD there is no internal understanding of ‘later.’ It’s now or now,” Matlen said. They have a hard time putting their wants and needs on hold. Because they’re kids, they’ve also yet to learn how to calm themselves or express their needs and emotions appropriately, she said.
“A little disappointment becomes the end of the world and nothing seems to stop the child from, what looks like, obsessing over their intense needs of that moment.”
They also might feel overwhelmed by external events, such as “too much noise or excitement at a party… Combined, these symptoms make it very hard to stay calm when under stress or when they feel fearful or anxious.”
When your child has a tantrum, especially in public, it can be tough to know how to respond. Some parents vacillate from one extreme to another, from placating their child and giving in to punishing them and getting angry, according to Matlen.
But while it might seem impossible, you can navigate the rocky road of tantrums. Here are expert strategies to prevent tantrums or tame them when they start.
1. Pinpoint the source.
Psychotherapist Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D, suggested looking “at what might be triggering your child’s behaviors.” When you can find the source of the behavior, she said, you can make strides toward changing it.
Knowing what triggers your child, Matlen said, can help you defuse their tantrum as early as possible. For instance, is your child hungry? Are they sleep-deprived? Are they experiencing strong emotions? Once you pinpoint the underlying problem try to solve it, she said.
This also is a good tool for preventing tantrums. For instance, if your child can’t handle the overstimulating environment of a local fair, just don’t take them, Matlen said.
2. Explain consequences in advance.
Before a tantrum ever starts, Matlen suggested talking to your child about the negative consequences of bad behaviors. She gave this example: “If you scream and cry when I turn off the TV, you won’t be able to watch it later today.”
Matlen took this approach when her daughter was 5 years old. She tended to have tantrums when she didn’t get a new toy at the store. “Before our next outing, I told her that if she had a tantrum, I would simply pick her up and take her home. No toys and no more visits to the store for a very long time.”
Her daughter still had a meltdown. But instead of getting furious or frustrated, Matlen picked up her daughter and took her to the car. She drove home without saying a word. And it never happened again.
“This, of course, may not work for all children, but it’s an example of planning ahead and having an outcome that everyone understands.”
3. Talk to your child, and encourage them to talk back.
Talk calmly and quietly to your child, and acknowledge their feelings, Matlen said. Doing so helps your child feel heard, Sarkis said.
For instance, according to Matlen, you might say, “I know you’re angry that I won’t buy you that toy today. It feels frustrating and it makes you feel like exploding inside, doesn’t it?”
Then, encourage your child to express their emotions, as well: “I’d be awfully upset too if I couldn’t get what I wanted right now — let’s talk about why this is so important to you so you can help me to understand.”
4. Distract your child.
For younger kids, distraction may work, Matlen said. “Talk about something completely different, like how excited you are to watch the TV show you planned, when you all get home.”
5. Give them a time-out.
“Sometimes, nothing seems to work, though, and a child will not stop no matter what you try,” Matlen said. When that happens, calmly explain that they’ll need to go to their room. They can come out after they’ve calmed down. This is a powerful way to learn self-soothing behaviors, she said. Because of that, it’s important to keep objects that promote healthy coping, such as a teddy bear or fidget toys, she added.
6. Ignore the tantrum.
“Sometimes the best reaction to a tantrum is no reaction,” said Sarkis, author of several books on ADHD, including Making the Grade with ADD: A Student’s Guide to Succeeding in College with Attention Deficit Disorder. That’s because “even negative attention is attention, and it gives a ‘payoff’ for the behavior.” So not giving your child an “audience” might help to lessen the length of the tantrum.
If your child has a tantrum in the middle of the store – and it’s not crowded – let them have the tantrum, Sarkis said. “You may get looks from others. It’s OK. Just remember that not paying attention to the behavior helps extinguish it.”
7. Give them reminders.
According to both experts, kids with ADHD have a hard time with transitions. They can have a meltdown when it’s time to leave the playground or stop playing their videogame to have dinner, Matlen said. “Things that are pleasurable are hard to stop, especially when the transition is into an activity they might not enjoy.”
This is when reminders are key. For instance, remind your child at 30, 15, 10 and 5-minute intervals that dinner is ready, Matlen said. Also, establish appropriate consequences if they don’t comply, such as not playing videogames after dinner, or playing them for 15 minutes instead of 30 next time, she said. (Or just ban videogames before dinner altogether, she said.)
Matlen gave this example of what to say to your child: “I know it’s hard for you to stop playing your PlayStation when it’s time for dinner. I will give you reminders so that you can wind down. However, having a tantrum is not acceptable, so if that happens, you will (fill in the blank).”
8. Praise your child when they do show self-control.
“Parents need to catch their kids being good much more than they catch them being ‘bad,’” Sarkis said. “Children with ADHD respond well to positive reinforcement.” Plus, “whatever you focus on grows,” she added.
According to Matlen, instead of saying, “You are such a good boy for not having a meltdown when I said no to ice cream,” a better response would be, “You must have really felt proud of yourself that you didn’t have a tantrum when you saw that we were out of cookies – good job!”
9. Avoid corporal punishment.
“It’s a normal reaction to get angry when a parent sees his or her child flat out on the floor lashing out, kicking and screaming,” Matlen said. You might grab your child or even spank them. But this only fuels the negative situation and everyone’s emotions, she said. “Corporal punishment may defuse the behavior temporarily – though usually, it only escalates the negative behavior – but it also sets the tone that it’s OK to hit people when you’re angry.” Also, a child needs to “get himself in control.”
Dealing with tantrums is difficult. But by planning ahead, staying calm and applying specific strategies, you can defuse them. And if the tantrum doesn’t quiet, try to ride it out.
ADHD & Kids: 9 Tips to Tame Tantrums
Parents dread having to deal with meltdowns. However, parents of children with ADHD may face more meltdowns than other parents.
Children with ADHD are more prone to meltdowns for a number of reasons. Often their brain circuitry for emotional regulation is dysfunctional, meaning it takes less to trigger an anger episode that lasts for longer periods of time than other children. This is the result of faulty wiring. Working with kids on relaxation techniques such as taking deep breaths or counting to ten at the first sign of being upset can help. It’s especially important that they practice these skills when they’re calm.
These kids often aren’t fully tuned in to what is going on around them. As a result, they miss critical information that causes them to misinterpret a situation, thus reacting to what they think is going on rather than what actually happened. If you’re having a discussion with your child, frequently pause to make sure they’re getting your point. Ask questions to check for understanding and encourage them to ask you questions as well.
Some ADHD kids lack the ability to be flexible, causing them to go into meltdown mode when there is a change in routine or an expected event doesn’t happen. For instance, a boy may be having a great time “roughhousing” with his dad but doesn’t want to stop when dad feels it has gone on long enough. This can become ugly and lead to fewer such play situations. Agreeing to use a timer and stop when the timer says to quit rather than dad might help to avoid this.
1. Don’t Lose Your Cool
Take a few deep breaths. This triggers the relaxation response and will lower your own anxiety/anger level and make it possible for you to think clearly and model appropriate behavior for your child. Remember the preflight instruction, “When the mask comes down, please cover your own nose and mouth first before you assist your child.”
2. Don’t React – Respond
If you and your child have already agreed on how meltdowns will be handled with a behavior plan, make sure the plan is followed. As an example, you might have decided on an incentive program where your child can earn rewards for following the behavior plan. Incentives might be earning points every time he/she can calm down before having a meltdown. Points earned can be cashed in at the end of the day for a desired activity such as screen time or a special treat.
If you do not have a plan in place, then you can respond by saying “WE have a problem here. Let’s see how we can solve the problem TOGETHER.” Find out what your child’s concern is. See if there is a way to address it. It’s not giving in if you modify a situation in a way that is more acceptable to the child while still meeting your needs as well. Good leaders listen to the people they are leading and incorporate the feedback they receive.
3. Don’t Dictate – Discuss
Ask, “What is making you upset?” Listen carefully and respond empathetically such as “I see you (want or don’t want), what’s up?” Find out what the child is concerned about. For instance, if the problem is not wanting to go to bed, you might say, “I understand you don’t want to go to bed right now even though 9:00 is your usual bedtime. What’s bothering you about this?” Perhaps the child says, “I need to finish my video game so that I can get to the next level.” You then can say, “So here is the problem we have. I want you to go to bed because it’s your bedtime and you need your sleep to feel good and do well at school and baseball tomorrow and you want to stay up later to finish your game. I’m not saying you don’t have to go to bed now but do you have any ideas on how we can solve this?”
For discussion let’s say it’s only for a few minutes and you decide for tonight to let him finish the game to avoid an hour or more of meltdown versus a few more minutes. You might say, “Ok, for tonight you can finish the game. Tomorrow we can talk about this and come up with a solution so that from now on you’ll be able to finish what you’re doing and go to bed on time.”
It’s ok for us to listen to our children’s perspective on difficult situations. If this is an isolated incident, then problem-solving could avoid a major meltdown. However, we need to follow up the next day with a detailed discussion on how this can be avoided in the future.
If this is an ongoing problem, then stick to the program/plan you have already set in place. If you have been working on anger management techniques such as taking deep breaths, then remind your child to practice it.
4. Don’t Demand – Encourage
If you have a prearranged plan to follow or have come to an agreement for this crisis situation, then you can say, “I know you’re upset right now but I also know you can do a good job of calming down,” or “You know what our agreement is and I bet you’ll do your part now just like the great job you did yesterday. I love how you ‘re getting better at this each time.”
5. Don’t Give Up – Stay Committed
Raising a child with any special need, be it developmental, psychological or medical, requires a tremendous amount of patience and strength to endure and continue to handle tough situations when they come up. Make sure you have a good support system in place. Be sure to have a break from time to time to do something fun and relaxing. Also, try to view the whole situation from the 30,000-foot level to see the progress you’ve made so far, and that meltdowns now and then can be little bumps in the road to helping your child learn to cope with the day to day events they encounter.
If you have truly committed to following a behavioral approach under the guidance of a mental health provider and are not seeing progress, please don’t hesitate to discuss this with your child’s physician. A referral to a psychologist for a comprehensive evaluation may uncover other conditions that may need to be addressed. Sometimes ADHD may be misdiagnosed, or a child can have more than one disorder which needs to be examined.
When talking to a professional, you should be able to tell them when and where these episodes happen and what took place just before the meltdown; these are valuable clues that a well-trained clinician can use to modify your approach or discover an underlying skill deficit that can be improved.
Sometimes, when behavioral approaches have been in place for some time and have been tweaked all they can, medication may need some consideration. Parents should be cautious about having their child placed on medication prematurely, but when symptoms are severe and interfering with a child’s ability to function in several environments, then medication can be extremely beneficial.
50 Calm-Down Ideas to Try with Kids of All Ages
Navigating childhood challenges can be stressful, and sometimes deep breathing isn’t the solution that works for your child. When your child is in need of tension relief, try one of these techniques:
- Try an inversion. For centuries, Yogis have understood the calming power of bringing the head below the level of the heart, otherwise known as inversion. Whether it’s relaxing in child’s pose, bending over to touch your toes, or practicing a headstand, inverting the body has a restorative effect on the autonomic nervous system, which controls the body’s response to stress.
- Visualize a quiet place. Research has shown that visualization is beneficial for a range of populations to reduce stress levels. Ask your child to close their eyes and picture a calm, peaceful place. Then, gently guide them to slowly start to build up a picture of how it looks, smells, and feels to be there.
- Drink water. Dehydration has been linked to a reduction in mental performance. Pour your child a tall class of cold water and have them sip it slowly. You can try this with them, and observe the calming effect this has on your own nervous system.
- Sing out loud. Everyone knows the sweet relief associated with rocking out to your favorite tune. But the physical act of singing out loud, even if it is off key, has been shown to release endorphins, the “feel good” chemical in the brain.
- Do the “Downward Facing Dog” pose. Just like inversions help reset the autonomic nervous system, the yoga pose known as Downward Facing Dog in particular has the added benefit of activating several muscles in the arms, legs, and core. This stretch helps muscles begin to burn additional blood glucose that is made available by the body’s fight or flight response.
- Paint it out. Not only does painting give the brain something to focus on other than the stressor, but participating in visual arts has been linked to resilience to stress in general. If the thought of dragging out the tempera gives you stress, have your child try “painting” with shaving cream on a plastic shower curtain in the yard. Not only is clean up a breeze, but your child will smell great when they are finished.
- Jump rope. Set a timer for 2 minutes, put on some music, and challenge your child jump to the beat of the song. If your child isn’t able to jump rope, playing hop scotch is a great alternative.
- Jump high. Challenge your child to a jumping contest to see who can jump highest, longest, fastest, or slowest. This is another great way to get in some exercise to help your child blow off some steam.
- Blow bubbles. Just like blowing on a pinwheel, blowing bubbles can help your child gain control of their breathing and thus, their mental state. Bonus: Running around popping bubbles is just as fun as blowing them.
- Take a hot bath. After a long day at work, there is nothing more relaxing than laying in a bathtub of hot water with the lights turned down and no interruptions. The same holds true for kids. Use bath time as a chance to help your little one unwind from the activities of the day. Introduce a few simple bath toys and allow your child to relax as long as they need to.
- Take a cold shower. While the complete opposite of a hot bath, cold showers actually have a restorative effect on the body. Not only do cold or even cool showers reduce inflammation in the muscles, it improves heart flow back to the heart, and leads to a boost in mood. One study on winter swimmers found that tension, fatigue, depression, and negative moods all decreased with regular plunges into cold water.
- Have a cozy drink. There is a reason why many people herald September as the beginning of Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL) season. Drinking a warm drink on a cool day makes your body feel warm, almost like a hug from the inside. Giving your child a warm hot chocolate or warmed milk with a splash of vanilla will elicit the same response you have over that first sip of your PSL.
- Blow out a candle. Light a candle for your child to blow out. Then re-light it and move it further and further away from them, so they have to take deeper and deeper breaths to blow it out. This is a great way to practice deep breathing, while making a game out of it.
- Watch fish. Have you ever wondered why there is always a fish tank in hospitals and medical centers? The University of Exeter in the UK did, and found that watching fish swim in an aquarium reduces blood pressure and heart rate. Better yet, the larger the fish tank, the greater the effect. The next time your child needs to calm down, take them to the local lake, hatchery, or aquarium for a little fish-watching therapy.
- Count backwards from 100. Not only does counting give your child a chance to focus on something other than what is bothering them, counting backwards offers an added concentration challenge without overwhelming their brain.
- Repeat a mantra. Create a mantra that you and your child can use to help them calm down. “I am calm” or “I am relaxed” work well, but feel free to get creative and make it something personal to you and your child.
- Breathe into your belly. Most of us breathe incorrectly, especially when we are in a stressful situation. Have your child think about their belly like it is a balloon. Tell them to breathe in deep to fill the balloon, and breathe out to deflate it. Repeat this simple process 5 times and notice the effects.
- Shake a glitter jar. “Calm Down Jars” have been making their way around Pinterest for a while now, but the concept behind them is sound. Giving your child a focal point for 3-5 minutes that is not the stressor will allow their brain and body to reset itself. These jars can be made simply from sealed canning jars filled with colored water and glitter or with baby food jars filled with warm water and glitter glue.
- Go for a run. Running has been shown to reduce stress, and can sometimes be more effective than a trip to the therapist’s office. Going for a 10 minute jog can not only affect your child’s mood immediately, its effects on their ability to cope with stress can last for several hours afterward.
- Count to 5. Just when it seems as though they “can’t take it anymore”, have your child close their eyes and count to five. This form of 5-second meditation offers the brain a chance to reset itself and be able to look at a situation from a different perspective. It also gives your child a chance to think before they act in a volatile situation.
- Talk it out. For children who are able to verbalize their feelings, talking about what is bothering them gives them a chance to let you know what is going on while processing it for themselves. The trick is to resist the urge to “fix” the problem. Your child needs you to listen and ask appropriate questions, not offer unsolicited advice.
- Write a letter in the voice of your BFF. We would never talk to our best friend in the same critical way we talk to ourselves. The same is true for our children. Tell them to be kind to themselves, and ask them what they would tell a best friend to do in their situation.
- Decorate a wall. We’re not talking about paint and decor, but poster tack and pictures from magazines or printed from the internet can give your child a chance to create large-scale temporary art in any space. The creative process is what is important, not the end result.
- Create a vision board. Have your child cut out words and pictures from magazines that speak to their interests, desires, and dreams. Then have them glue these pictures and words onto a poster board to display in their room. Not only does the process of creation allow them to think about what they want from life, displaying things they love gives them an opportunity to focus on what is really important when they are upset.
- Give or get a bear hug. Hugging allows your body to produce oxytocin, a naturally occurring hormone in your body necessary for immune system function. Not only does a 20 second hug reduce blood pressure, increase feelings of well-being, and reduce the harmful physical effects of stress, both you and your child will reap the benefits!
- Walk in nature. According to Stanford scientists, walking in nature has been proven to improve cognition and reduce stress. Even if you do not have time to spend the 50 minutes researchers did, taking a 15 minute walk in nature works can be just what your child needs.
- Envision your best self. This is a great way to motivate your child to work toward a goal. Have them write down where they would like to see themselves in a week, a month, or a year, with this specific goal in mind.
- Blow on a pinwheel. Similar to the candle exercise, blowing on a pinwheel focuses more on controlled exhalation rather than deep inhalation. Tell your child to make the pinwheel go slow, then fast, then slow to show them how they can vary the rate at which they blow out the air in their lungs.
- Squish some putty. When a child plays with putty, the brain’s electrical impulses begin firing away from the areas associated with stress. Try a store bought putty or make your own.
- Take up pottery. Much in the way playing with putty fires electrical impulses in your child’s brain, sculpting with clay or throwing pots can have a similar effect. It also has the added benefit of being considered “active learning”, a powerful condition that allows your child to learn through exploration.
- Write it out. For older children, journaling, or writing their feelings down can have a profound effect on their mood, especially if they can do so without the fear of having it read. Give your child a notebook to keep in a safe place, and allow them to write about how they feel, assuring them you will not read it unless they ask you to.
- Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude. A cousin to “write it out”, gratitude journaling has been linked to better performance in the classroom as well as a reduction of stress outside of learning environments. Having a separate notebook only for things your child is grateful for will give them the freedom to keep their journaling activities separate.
- Name your emotion. Often when children become overwhelmed, it is because they have difficulty identifying the negative thoughts they are having. Whether your child is quick to anger, panic, or obsess to ensure things are perfect, ask them to give this feeling a name, and help them talk back to it. For instance, by asking your child, “is Mr. Perfect bothering you again?” you can work together to help them challenge their perfectionism, rather than fight them over it.
- Rock in a rocking chair. Not only does rocking in a rocking chair provide non-weight bearing strengthening to the knees and core, its repetitive nature offers stress-relief as well. Rock in a rocking chair with your child or allow them to rock by themselves as a way to self-soothe their frenzied emotions.
- Push against a wall. This trick is perfect for allowing the body to get rid of stress hormones without having to go outside or even leave the room. Have your child try to push the wall over for 10 seconds, 3 times. This process allows the muscles to contract in a futile attempt to bring the wall down, then relax, releasing feel-good hormones into the body.
- Crinkle tissue paper. Babies are inherently aware of this trick as one of their favorite things to do is crinkle paper. Not only does crinkling tissue paper provide a satisfying noise, the textural changes in your child’s hand sends sensory feedback to the brain in a pathway away from those associated with stress.
- Pop bubble wrap. Anyone who has received a package in the mail knows the joy of popping row after row of bubble wrap. The same material can be found at most retailers and dollar stores and be cut into manageable pieces for stress-relief anywhere, anytime.
- Roll a tennis ball on your back. An old physical therapy trick, rolling a tennis ball on your child’s back will give them a gentle massage when they are most in need of a calming touch. Focus on the shoulders, neck, and lower back as these are typical places where the body holds tension.
- Roll a golf ball under your feet. Rolling a golf ball under your child’s feet can not only improve circulation, but there are pressure points on the bottom of the feet that relieve stress and relax the muscles of the feet and legs. Roll over the entire sole of your child’s foot using various pressures for maximum benefit.
- Go to your calm down space. Having a designated “Calm Down Space” in your home gives children an opportunity to retreat when they feel out of control and rejoin the group when they need to. It is important to make this space comfortable so your child wants to visit it when they are in need of a self-imposed “time out”.
- Play music. Music has a profound effect on mood, sleep, stress, and anxiety. Use a variety of musical styles to set the tone in your home, car, or your child’s room.
- Have a dance party. Adding a physical component to your musical enjoyment gets your kids moving and is a fun way to be active. Crank up the tunes and have a dance party in your living room when your child is in a bad mood and watch their mood transform.
- Do a primal yell. Sometimes all of your child’s emotions are simply too much to contain in their body. Have them stand with their feet shoulder width apart and imagine their feelings boiling up from their toes through their legs and body, and out of their mouths. They don’t have to yell words, or even maintain a certain pitch, just whatever comes out that feels good to them.
- Change the scenery. How many times have we thought to ourselves, “Just walk away,” when confronted by a big emotion? Your child may simply need a change of scenery in order to calm down. If you are inside, head out. If you are outside, find a quiet space indoors. Either way, change the scenery and you will likely change the mood.
- Go for a walk. There’s a real reason people go for walks to clear their heads. Not only is the fresh air and exercise restorative, but the natural rhythm walking creates has a self-soothing quality. Take your child on a walk, and they may even open up to your about what is on their mind.
- Plan a fun activity. When you are in an anxious moment, it can seem as though the walls are closing in and the world will come to an end. Some children need to focus on what is ahead of them in order to reset their internal dialog. Plan something fun to do as a family, and let your child have a say in it. Any topic that will get them focused on a future something to look forward to can be helpful.
- Knead the bread. Grandmothers around the world will tell you that the process of bread making is a tremendous stress relief. Simple recipes are abundant online that allow your child to get their hands dirty turning and pushing dough. The best part is that at the end, you have homemade bread to show for it!
- Make a bracelet. Crafting in general can facilitate a state of “flow” or a state characterized by complete absorption in an activity. The same concept can be extended to knitting, crochet, folding laundry, or any activity where your child forgets their external surroundings.
- Get on a bike. Bicycling for children has largely become a thing of the past. With the introduction of bicycle lanes and paved trails in urban areas, bicycling is safer than ever and can be a powerful form of self-soothing. Not only is it easy on the joints, it promotes balance, exercise, and can be done with the whole family.
- Take a coloring break. It’s not without good reason that restaurants give children coloring; it gives them something to focus on, and can be a great mindfulness activity that reduces anxiety. Make a trip with your child to pick up some crayons and markers, and get them excited about filling in the pages of a coloring book.
Calming Children: Self Calming Strategies
Calming Children with Self-Calming Strategies
As much as you hate to see it in your own child, every child throws tantrums and has meltdowns, sometimes in the middle of the grocery store. This can be even more prevalent if your child has a language delay and doesn’t understand or can’t communicate what he wants. Your job as a parent or teacher is not to prevent the child from ever getting upset. We’ve seen those kids, we call them “spoiled” and they have a long road ahead of them because they aren’t always going to get their way. Instead, your job is to teach your child how to deal with getting upset. In particular, it can be extremely helpful to teach your child calming strategies to calm himself or herself down. There are many calming strategies that you can teach your child to get through those awful meltdowns faster and without requiring you to bribe your child with ice cream and toys to make it stop. This process may take a while, especially if you have a child who can really let it rip, but have patience and keep working on it. It will get better. Calming children with self-calming strategies has worked for children across the world, and it can work for your child, too!
Step 1: Don’t Give In
If this method is going to work at all, you HAVE to stop giving in to your child’s meltdowns. Seriously, this is VERY important so listen well. If you try to teach your child these calming strategies but you eventually give in after he’s been screaming for 5 minutes (even if you only give in sometimes), the calming strategies will NEVER be as effective as throwing that tantrum so the tantrums will never stop and the calming strategies will never work. You have to stop giving in!! I know this can be so hard to do because you don’t want to see your child hurting and you don’t want to cause a scene in whatever public place you may happen to be, but this is crucial. If your child starts throwing a fit about something, you CANNOT give in, even if you were just about to change your mind anyway. Your child will feel like the tantrum worked to get him what he wanted and the next tantrum will be even bigger. Here’s what you should do at this point if your child is tantruming:
- Remain calm, don’t show any emotion to your child. If you have to walk away so you can compose yourself, do that. If you need to tag in your spouse to handle the problem because you’re too emotional, do that.
- Try to wait the tantrum out for a bit. See if it goes away on its own if you don’t give it much attention. Just monitor your child for safety and make sure that your child doesn’t put himself in any dangerous situations (like throwing a tantrum in the knife aisle at Bed, Bath, and Beyond). If he does, calmly move him away from danger without making a big deal out of it.
- Remove your child from the situation. Carry him out of the store (if you can do so safely) or back to his room. Try to isolate him from any attention he may get for the tantrum.
- Wait till it passes. Because it will. Eventually, your child will tire and that’s when he will need a hug. Be there with his hug when he’s ready for it and have faith that the rest of these steps will make these tantrums better. (But again, don’t give in to what he wanted, even after the tantrum stops).
Step Two: Identifying Calm Vs. Upset
The first thing you need to do is teach your child the difference between being calm and being upset. You will want to do this with your child when she is calm. I like to use a mood thermometer for this. A mood thermometer has a happy face at the bottom, an angry face at the top, and sometimes a few faces in between indicating someone who is on their way up or down the continuum.
Show your child the thermometer and say “when we are happy and calm, we are down here at the bottom”. Explain to your child that she is calm right now and show her where she is. You can even show her pictures of other children who are calm and happy. Then, tell her that when we are not happy, we are the top of the thermometer. We are upset. Show her pictures of children who are upset. You can type “child tantrum” into Google image search and get some pretty great upset children. Have her help you figure out which children look calm and which children look upset. You can also talk about some emotions in between, such as sad or scared. These often will lead to being upset if not dealt with early. Those will be the best times to try some calming strategies with your child. Keep working on labeling these emotions until your child is starting to understand them. You can even label her own emotions when you see them. For example, if your child is starting to get upset, show her the thermometer and say “You look sad” while pointing to the sad face. Just help her understand what those emotions look like and how they feel. I’ve even had some parents take pictures of their children displaying different emotions and use those to show their children. Be creative and talk about emotions a lot. Once your child starts to understand, move on to step three.
Step Three: Teaching Calming Strategies when Calm
Think about your child when he’s in the middle of a tantrum. Do you think now would be a good time to teach him a new skill? Probably not, I’m guessing he wouldn’t be listening very well at that point. So the best time to teach calming strategies is while your child is already calm. It sounds counter-productive but we’ll get to the actual calming part later. Try a whole bunch of calming strategies with your child and see which ones he seems to do well with or he seems to like the most. Keep trying them until you get about 4 that your child can do fairly well. It helps if each strategy has its own picture to go with it so your child can learn what they are. You can create your own pictures (like take pictures of the child doing the strategy) or you can use the ones I’ve created:
Here are some strategies to try with your child. Show him how to do each one and then have him do it with you. After you’ve practiced them several times, have your child do them by himself so you can see which ones he’s learning the best. This will help you pick your four.
- The Balloon: Have your child hold his hands in front of his mouth like holding a small balloon. Tell your child to blow up the balloon. As he blows, he spreads his hands apart to pretend the balloon is getting bigger. Once the balloon is as big as it can get, your child claps his hands together to “pop” the balloon.
- The Pretzel: Have your child fold herself into a pretzel and squeeze. Have her wrap her legs together and fold her arms across her chest like she’s hugging herself. When she is as twisted as she can possibly get, have her squeeze hard.
- Take a Walk: Have your child take a walk to cool off. Sometimes just walking around a bit can help.
- The Bunny: Have your child pretend to be a bunny. He can get down on the ground like a bunny or just sit on his bottom. Have him breathe like a bunny does in short, quick breaths. Don’t let your child do this too long or he might get dizzy but a little bit of shallow breathing can bring his breathing back under his control. Follow this up with some long deep breaths, like hissing like a snake or blowing out candles.
- Write a Letter: Have your child “write a letter” about why she’s mad. Get out a piece of paper and a big fat crayon. Have your child scribble violently all over the paper. This should release some tension. If your child is older, you may actually be able to get her to write down why she’s mad. When she’s done, have your child read it to you or just crumple the paper and throw it away. If this strategy works for your child, you can have a calm-down bucket or stash that has paper and a crayon just for such an occasion.
- Count or Sing the ABCs: Have your child count as high as he can or sing/say the alphabet. Many times this is enough to bring the breathing back under control to quell the tantrum.
- Hug a Pillow/Stuffed Animal: Have your child pick a pillow or stuffed animal to hug. Tell her to squeeze it hard so she can get all of that upset out. She could also tell her stuffed animal why she’s upset.
Step Four: Make a Calming Strategies Board and Practice
Choose the four strategies that work best for your child (and feel free to use your own if you know of something that works for your child) and put them together on a board. It’s best if you get some sturdy poster board for this as it may be thrown across the room in anger at first. Cut out the pictures from my printout or make your own and put the four pictures (with descriptions) on the board. You should also put the mood thermometer on the board so you can use it to show your child. While your child is still calm, show her the board and say “this is what we will use when we are upset. When your body is red (point to the red on the thermometer) and you are upset, we will use these calming strategies to make your body green and help you calm down.” Have your child practice each of the calming strategies while she’s calm so you know she can do them. You could also pretend to be upset at some point and go over to the board to show her how to use it. Role playing is great for young children and those with language delays. You can also create a smaller version of this board to stick in your purse in case you need it on the go.
Step Five: Practice the Calming Strategies When Your Child is Upset
Now that your child knows the strategies, it’s time to put them into action. The next time your child starts to get upset, try to catch it before he gets completely out of control mad. Say “Your body doesn’t look green, let’s get our calming board”. Bring him the calming board and show him where he is on the thermometer. Label his emotion for him by saying “You are upset” or “you are mad”. Then, ask him to pick a calming strategy to try. If you’re lucky, he’ll remember his training and pick a strategy so you can help him through it. More likely though, he will be so mad about it that he will refuse to choose and possibly even try to cause harm to your board. Remain calm, this too will pass. If he doesn’t want to pick a strategy, you pick one for him and demonstrate it. Don’t force him to do it with you. Then, wait a minute or two and try that whole process again. Eventually, he should calm down enough to be able to do a strategy. However, the first several times you try this, it may take a while, especially if he’s just now getting used to you not giving in to his tantrums. Just keep trying it every few minutes until he’s ready to do one with you. If you stay calm, that will bring him down even faster. Eventually, your child should be more willing to do this. If you do it consistently with him, he will get to the point where you can say, “You look like you need to calm down, why don’t you go pick a strategy. When your body is green again, we can talk (or I can give you a hug)”. Then, he should be able to go calm himself down using the strategies you have practiced so many times. Keep in mind it may be a long way down the road before he can do this on his own, but that’s the overall goal. Once your child is calmed after a tantrum, talk with your child calmly about what happened and what you can do to solve the problem. Now is the time to work through the problem, now that he’s calm.
Keep calm and be persistent and you can teach your child these calming strategies as well. Be sure to use the social media buttons below to share this post with your friends and family so others can benefit from this info on calming children as well!
Where to Find More Info:
This guide, along with 38 others, is included in Ms. Carrie’s E-Book: Speech and Language Therapy Guide: Step-By-Step Speech Therapy Activities to Teach Speech and Language Skills At Home or In Therapy. This guide includes detailed information on teaching various speech and language skills, including this one, along with worksheets, handouts, sample IEP goals, data collection, and video demonstrations.
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How to Help Children Calm Down
Many children have difficulty regulating their emotions. Tantrums, outbursts, whining, defiance, fighting: these are all behaviors you see when kids experience powerful feelings they can’t control. While some kids have learned to act out because it gets them what they want — attention or time on the iPad — other kids have trouble staying calm because they are unusually sensitive.
The good news is that learning to calm down instead of acting out is a skill that can be taught.
What is dysregulation?
“Some children’s reactions are just bigger than their peers or their siblings or their cousins,” explains Lindsey Giller, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute. “Not only do they feel things more intensely and quickly, they’re often slower to return to being calm.” Unusually intense feelings can also make a child more prone to impulsive behaviors.
When kids are overwhelmed by feelings, adds Dr. Giller, the emotional side of the brain isn’t communicating with the rational side, which normally regulates emotions and plans the best way to deal with a situation. Experts call it being “dysregulated.” It’s not effective to try to reason with a child who’s dysregulated. To discuss what happened, you need to wait until a child’s rational faculties are back “online.”
Parents can start by helping children understand how their emotions work. Kids don’t go from calm to sobbing on the floor in an instant. That emotion built over time, like a wave. Kids can learn control by noticing and labeling their feelings earlier, before the wave gets too big to handle.
Some kids are hesitant to acknowledge negative emotions. “A lot of kids are growing up thinking anxiety, anger, sadness are bad emotions,” says Stephanie Samar, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute. But naming and accepting these emotions is “a foundation to problem-solving how to manage them.”
Parents may also minimize negative feelings, notes Dr. Samar, because they want their kids to be happy. But children need to learn that we all have a range of feelings. “You don’t want to create a dynamic that only happy is good,” she says.
Model managing difficult feelings
“For younger children, describing your own feelings and modeling how you manage them is useful,” notes Dr. Samar. “They hear you strategizing about your own feelings, when you’re nervous or frustrated, and how you’re going to handle it, and they can use these words.”
For kids who feel like big emotions sneak up on them, you can help them practice recognizing their emotions, and model doing that yourself. Try ranking the intensity of your emotions from 1-10, with 1 being pretty calm and 10 being furious. If you forget something that you meant to bring to Grandma’s, you could acknowledge that you are feeling frustrated and say that you’re at a 4. It might feel a little silly at first, but it teaches kids to pause and notice what they are feeling.
If you see them starting to get upset about something, ask them what they are feeling, and how upset they are. Are they at a 6? For some younger kids, a visual aid like a feelings thermometer might help.
Validate your child’s feelings
Validation is a powerful tool for helping kids calm down by communicating that you understand and accept what they’re feeling. “Validation is showing acceptance, which is not the same thing as agreement,” Dr. Giller explains. “It’s nonjudgmental. And it’s not trying to change or fix anything.” Feeling understood, she explains, helps kids let go of powerful feelings.
Effective validation means paying undivided attention to your child. “You want to be fully attuned so you can notice her body language and facial expressions and really try to understand her perspective,” says Dr. Samar. “It can help to reflect back and ask, ‘Am I getting it right?’ Or if you’re truly not getting it, it’s okay to say, ‘I’m trying to understand.’ ”
Helping kids by showing them that you’re listening and trying to understand their experience can help avoid explosive behavior when a child is building towards a tantrum.
Validating feelings doesn’t mean giving attention to bad behavior. Ignoring behaviors like whining, arguing, inappropriate language or outbursts is a way to reduce the chances of these behaviors being repeated. It’s called “active” because it’s withdrawing attention conspicuously.
“You’re turning your face, and sometimes body, away or leaving the room when your child is engaging in minor misbehaviors in order to withdraw your attention,” Dr. Giller explains. “But the key to its effectiveness is, as soon as your child is doing something you can praise, to turn your attention back on.”
The most powerful tool parents have in influencing behavior is attention. As Dr. Giller puts it, “It’s like candy for your kids.” Positive attention will increase the behaviors you are focusing on.
When you’re shaping a new behavior, you want to praise it and give a lot of attention to it. “So really, really focus in on it,” adds Dr. Giller. “Be sincere, enthusiastic and genuine. And you want it to be very specific, to make sure your child understands what you are praising.”
When helping your child deal with an emotion, notice the efforts to calm down, however small. For example, if your child is in the midst of a tantrum and you see him take a deep inhale of air, you can say, “I like that you took a deep breath” and join him in taking additional deep breathes.
Another key way to help prevent kids from getting dysregulated is to make your expectations clear and follow consistent routines. “It’s important to keep those expectations very clear and short,” notes Dr. Samar, and convey rules and expected behaviors when everyone is calm. Dependable structure helps kids feel in control.
When change is unavoidable, it’s good to give advance warning. Transitions are particularly tough for kids who have trouble with big emotions, especially when it means stopping an activity they’re very engaged in. Providing a warning before a transition happens can help kids feel more prepared. “In 15 minutes, we’re going to sit down at the table for dinner, so you’re going to need to shut off your PS4 at that time,” Dr. Giller suggests. It may still be hard for them to comply, but knowing it’s coming helps kids feel more in control and stay calmer,” she explains.
When kids are asked to do things they’re not likely to feel enthusiastic about, giving them options may reduce outbursts and increase compliance. For instance: “You can either come with me to food shopping or you can go with Dad to pick up your sister.” Or: “You can get ready for bed now and we can read a story together — or you can get ready for bed in 10 minutes and no story.”
“Giving two options reduces the negotiating that can lead to tension,” Dr. Samar suggests.
Coping ahead is planning in advance for something that you predict may be an emotionally challenging situation for your child, or for both of you. It means talking, when you are both calm, about what’s coming, being direct about what negative emotions can arise, and strategizing how you will get through it.
If a child was upset last time she was at Grandma’s house because she wasn’t allowed to do something she gets to do at home, coping ahead for the next visit would be acknowledging that you saw that she was frustrated and angry, and discussing how she can handle those feelings. Together you might come up with something she is allowed to do at Grandma’s that she can have fun doing.
Talking about stressful situations in advance helps avoid meltdowns. “If you set up a plan in advance, it increases the likelihood that you’ll end up in a positive situation,” Dr. Samar notes.
If a child has a tantrum, parents are often hesitant to bring it up later, Dr. Samar notes. “It’s natural to want to put that behind us. But it’s good to revisit briefly, in a non-judgmental way.”
Revisiting an earlier event — say a meltdown at the toy store — engages the child in thinking about what happened, and to strategize about what could have been done differently. If you can come up with one or two things that might have led to a different outcome, your child might remember them next time he’s starting to feel overwhelmed.
Five special minutes a day
Even a small amount of time set aside reliably, every day, for mom or dad to do something chosen by a child can help that child manage stress at other points in the day. It’s a time for positive connection, without parental commands, ignoring any minor misbehavior, just attending to your child and letting her be in charge.
It can help a child who’s having a tough time in school, for instance, to know she can look forward to that special time. “This five minutes of parental attention should not be contingent on good behavior,” says Dr. Samar. “It’s a time, no matter what happened that day, to reinforce that ‘I love you no matter what.’ ”
Keep Calm and Breathe Om: 7 ADHD Relaxation Techniques
“I finally did it!” Bob, an adult with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, said to himself, as he walked out of the office at 5 p.m. sharp, to meet his wife for dinner. For the first time in years, he wasn’t late.
More important, he was ready to enjoy the night out because he felt relaxed and in control. Bob no longer waited until the eleventh hour to complete his client reports — a stressful pattern that had taken a toll on his health and his marriage.
How did Bob cut workplace stress? By using a watch that beeped every hour, so that he made sure he was following his to-do list, a year-long calendar with color-coded client deadlines, ADHD-specific relaxation techniques, and a notebook in which he “parked” random thoughts during the day. The result: less stress and a happier life.
Many people with ADHD live in a constant state of stress. Their neurobiology makes it difficult to screen out competing stimuli, focus, and slow down, all of which increase frustration levels. Being unable to measure up to people’s expectations or feeling guilty about missing deadlines at work creates additional tension.
Like Bob, you can reduce stress with strategies that target your ADHD symptoms. Here are some to try:
Acknowledge Your ADHD
Stop blaming yourself for forgetting chores or missing a deadline. Recognize the real culprit: ADHD is neurobiological and it won’t go away. Get a proper diagnosis and treatment. Sign up for a local ADHD support group or an Internet forum. Merely realizing that you are not alone can reduce stress.
Exercise Your Options
Exercise is a potent stress-reducer. Physical activity increases the brain’s serotonin levels, which combats the stress hormone cortisol. Studies suggest that one exercise session of 30 to 45 minutes can improve mood and increase relaxation for 90 to 120 minutes. Exercise, over time, raises your threshold for stress.
Most people with ADHD see time as a fluid thing. To better gauge time, buy a wristwatch that beeps and set it to go off every hour. If you always need “just five more minutes,” get a countdown timer that will sound after five minutes!
My client, Linda, spent hours on the Internet, then found herself scrambling at the end of the day to meet deadlines. A stopwatch, set to go off every hour, periodically roused her from her online reverie.
Overbooking your time can raise stress. Whether the cause is pure impulsivity or an internal voice saying, “I should do x, y, z,” stress takes its toll on your mind. Practice saying no three times a day. And every time you say “yes,” ask yourself, “What am I saying ‘no’ to?” Relaxation? Listening to music?
Make Structure Your Friend
Although many adults with ADHD seem “allergic” to structure, a reliable routine can minimize chaos. Try these tips, both of which work wonders for my clients: Before bed, plan the next day — list what you’re going to do, when, and how. You’ll awake more centered. Also, go to bed and get up at the same time each day. This stabilizes body rhythms, increasing your chances of getting a sound sleep.
Take Time to Play
By not taking breaks from today’s busy life, you set yourself up for burnout. Schedule fun into your life. Have dinner or go to a movie with friends every week. Take a drive into the country or to the beach on the weekend. Figure out what you love and pursue it without guilt.
Many of my clients have a false sense of security once they make a few gains, and then abandon the strategies that got them there. Forgetting you have ADHD is a hallmark of the condition. Don’t let down your guard!
ADHD Relaxation Responses
People with ADHD often don’t recognize that they’re stressed until they are in the middle of a meltdown. Several times a day, take inventory of how you are feeling: Are your muscles tense? Is your heart racing? If so, do one of the following:
- Close your eyes and take 20 slow, deep breaths.
- Stand up and stretch for several minutes.
- Take a five-minute walk outside.
Updated on May 17, 2019
ADHD Relaxation Techniques to Help Calm You on Frantic Days
Some days, probably mostly Mondays, we probably all wish we had more ADHD relaxation techniques we could turn to. Those of us with ADHD have minds that always seem to run and run. We jump from one thought and one activity to another one without a moment’s pause.
This quick processing can provide benefits for innovation and creativity. For instance ADHD and creativity are closely related. As a result, most people with ADHD tend to be very innovative.
At the same time, though, this ADHD mind tends towards stress, anxiety, and becoming overwhelmed easily. ADHD and stress also are closely connected. Most people with ADHD find themselves mentally overwhelmed and exhausted quite frequently.
More than most others, people with ADHD sometimes just wish they could take a moment and rest. More than anything, we want our minds to take a vacation or a nap and let us relax. After all, many people might argue that relaxation exists in the mind to begin with. Ultimately, we could all use more pointers on how to use our mind to relax.
In this article, we cover some helpful ADHD relaxation techniques you can use almost anywhere to settle and calm your mind. These techniques can help you settle thoughts that run on and on. They can also help you relieve some of the stress that you grapple with on a daily basis. Read on to find some great strategies for relaxing your mind, soul, and body.
Practice Deep Breathing
The first of our ADHD relaxation techniques involves deep breathing. For the most part, we all can understand what deep breathing involves simply from its name. Still, if you look around you will see very few people actually taking a moment to focus and breathe in deeply.
Breathing deeply provides a number of benefits and can help you relax in a number of ways. First, breathing deeply requires concentration. You have to pause and actually focus, simple as it may be, on the act alone of breathing. Focusing on breathing forces you to clear your mind and helps to give you a moment’s clarity.
Secondly, deep breathing helps to release endorphins as well as helps to clear your body of toxins. Endorphins help you feel better overall and getting rid of toxins in your body can improve your overall wellbeing.
To practice deep breathing all you really need to do is pause for 30 seconds to a few minutes, close your eyes, and focus on nothing other than your breathing. If you have more time to really get into, you can even lay down and close your eyes. You can then put your hand on your stomach and feel the breathing as you focus your mind on breathing deeply in and out. The more time you can devote to this, the more relaxed you will feel overall.
A second helpful option for ADHD relaxation techniques includes taking time to put your thoughts on paper. In writing out or drawing out your thoughts, you actually allow yourself to unload some of the stress from your day. Additionally, putting your feelings on paper lets you express things you may have been holding back.
Through getting out your stress and expressing your feelings, you give your mind and body a chance to relax. For these reasons, journaling or doodling aimlessly can act as an excellent avenue for relaxation. The best time for journaling then falls at the of the day when most of us have the most stress. We get home from a hard day at work and a bad drive with traffic. As a result, we find ourselves frustrated and angry. Before you go to bed and carry all of that with you, take 15 to 30 mins to sit down and journal.
If you don’t think journaling is right for you, think again. You can get plenty creative with journaling ideas. As we already mentioned, you can draw or write out your feelings, or even write a fictional story with you as a character. For more creative ideas for relaxation through journaling, you can try the ideas found or in this post.
A third great tool to include with your ADHD relaxation techniques is to learn and practice meditation. Simply speaking, meditation is a practice to relax your mind. It can involve deep breathing or reflection on something. Typically, meditation involves finding inner peace and calm.
Many people practice meditation both religiously and practically on a daily basis. Meditation doesn’t have to act as part of a religious exercise, though. Instead, you can view it as an activity to take your mind away from outside activities and refocus on your inner spirit.
Meditation helps you relax through taking your mind off of all external stress. Instead of thinking about the work you have to get done, you instead can reflect on your feelings and your heartbeat and your innermost thoughts. To start practicing meditation, all you need to do is find a quiet space and some time to be alone. In that space you can sit and close your eyes and reflect on your inner thoughts and remove every outside influence.
Meditation can really help to provide a window of time to get away from your daily stresses. To help find more relaxation and alone time, start planning out times in your day to simply sit and meditate. You can do this first thing in the morning or as the last thing you do before going to bed. Whenever you do it, though, you can be certain you can find rest through it. For some ideas on getting started with meditation try out the guides and in this article.
Another great strategy for ADHD relaxation techniques involves maintaining good boundaries. Every one of us only has so much hours in the day and so much energy and capacity to get things done. This means that we have to prioritize some activities and relationships over others.
Some of us think of boundaries as bad things. We see them as barriers to keep us from moving ahead. In reality, though, healthy boundaries keep us on track in much the same way guardrails keep your car on the road. We need boundaries to keep us safe. If we don’t have proper boundaries, we end up completely drained of energy and emotional capacity.
If you find yourself overly stressed, this is a good sign that you need more boundaries in your life. For instance, if stress makes up the most part of your day, start looking at the things that stress you out and start saying no to them. For instance, if you work too much at your job working after hours even, start saying no and stop responding to phone calls and emails after work hours end. If you have too many relationships to maintain, you need to start saying no to the ones that demand too much from you. You can’t cut out all relationships, but you should start focusing your time and energy on the ones that matter most.
To help you get back to relaxing your mind and spirirt, start reassessing your life boundaries. This practice might be hard, but it also can be cathartic in a way as you assess what activies and relationships drain you the most. Once you know which things you need to limit, commit to cutting back. In the end, you will find that you will have more time to simply rest and relax.
Take an Exercise Break
As a final item for helpful ADHD relaxation techniques, we would encourage you to take an exercise break. Breaks in general can provide an excellent way to relieve pressure on our minds and senses. Whenever we get overwhelmed, whether at work or at home, simply taking 15 minutes to separate from our task can help us eliminate some of our stress.
When we take a break, though, we need to actively do something so that our mind simply doesn’t wander back to the task we’re trying to avoid. Exercise then acts as a great way to pull our minds away. We all should know by now that exercise can provide anyone tremendous benefits. For instance we should know that physical activity helps to improve ADHD symptoms. Additionally, exercise helps to make us feel better and additionally helps to relieve stress.
When we talk about an exercise break, this doesn’t have to mean anything too intense. This could include getting up and going for a jog. Alternatively, you could take some time to do some push ups or situps or simple stretches. You want to do something that can get your body moving and get your mind off of what provides stress. For some more ideas on simple easy to do exercises for quick breaks try some of the ideas in this article or .
Use ADHD Relaxation Techniques as You Go About Your Regular Day
More than ever, we all seem to want to find the perfect balance in our lives, and we should all strive for this. After all, when our lives get out of balance we tend toward unhealthy habits and behaviors. Additionally, for those of us with ADHD, when we get out of balance, our symptoms generally just start getting worse.
A well balanced lifestyle helps us stay healthy, get rest, and keep stress away. Some ways we can help maintain balance are through having an ADHD daily routine and through maintaining a healthy diet. Additionally, we maintain balance through making sure we find time and use tools to help us relax. This is why having some ADHD relaxation techniques on hand that we can use each day is so critical.
We hope this article helps give you some ideas on how to build relaxation into your day. Additionally, we hope that you find ways to use these tools every day. We tend to not think about relaxing because we have so many other thing to do and think about. Regularly practicing ADHD relaxation techniques each day, though, helps us maintain a right balance in our lives. Use these tools and tips today to help you get back on track with moving towards that right balance.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Ways to cope
Although it can be difficult at times, it’s important to remember that a child with ADHD cannot help their behaviour. People with ADHD find it difficult to suppress impulses, which means they do not stop to consider a situation, or the consequences, before they act.
If you’re looking after a child with ADHD, you may find the below advice helpful.
Plan the day
Plan the day so your child knows what to expect. Set routines can make a difference to how a child with ADHD copes with everyday life.
For example, if your child has to get ready for school, break it down into structured steps, so they know exactly what they need to do.
Set clear boundaries
Make sure everyone knows what behaviour is expected, and reinforce positive behaviour with immediate praise or rewards. Be clear, using enforceable consequences, such as taking away a privilege, if boundaries are overstepped and follow these through consistently.
Give specific praise. Instead of saying a general: “Thanks for doing that,” you could say: “You washed the dishes really well. Thank you.”
This will make it clear to your child that you’re pleased and why.
If you’re asking your child to do something, give brief instructions and be specific. Instead of asking: “Can you tidy your bedroom?” say: “Please put your toys into the box and put the books back onto the shelf.”
This makes it clearer what your child needs to do and creates opportunities for praise when they get it right.
Set up your own incentive scheme using a points or star chart, so good behaviour can earn a privilege. For example, behaving well on a shopping trip will earn your child time on the computer or some sort of game.
Involve your child in it and allow them to help decide what the privileges will be.
These charts need regular changes or they become boring. Targets should be:
- immediate – for example, daily
- intermediate – for example, weekly
- long-term – for example, three-monthly
Try to focus on just one or two behaviours at a time.
Watch for warning signs. If your child looks like they’re becoming frustrated, overstimulated and about to lose self-control, intervene.
Distract your child, if possible, by taking them away from the situation. This may calm them down.
Keep social situations short and sweet. Invite friends to play, but keep playtimes short so your child doesn’t lose self-control. Don’t aim to do this when your child is feeling tired or hungry, such as after a day at school.
Make sure your child gets lots of physical activity during the day. Walking, skipping and playing sport can help your child wear themselves out and improve their quality of sleep.
Make sure they’re not doing anything too strenuous or exciting near to bedtime.
Read our page on health and fitness, which includes information on getting active, and how much activity you and your child should be doing.
Keep an eye on what your child eats. If your child is hyperactive after eating certain foods, which may contain additives or caffeine, keep a diary of these and discuss them with your GP.
Stick to a routine. Make sure your child goes to bed at the same time each night and gets up at the same time in the morning.
Avoid overstimulating activities in the hours before bedtime, such as computer games or watching TV.
Sleep problems and ADHD can be a vicious circle. ADHD can lead to sleep problems, which in turn can make symptoms worse.
Many children with ADHD will repeatedly get up after being put to bed and have interrupted sleep patterns. Trying a sleep-friendly routine can help your child and make bedtime less of a battleground.
Read more information about creating a bedtime ritual for better sleep.
Help at school
Children with ADHD often have problems with their behaviour at school, and the condition can negatively affect a child’s academic progress.
Speak to your child’s teachers or their school’s special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) about any extra support your child may need.