4 Alternatives to Telling Your Kid to 'Calm Down'

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I like to think of myself as a fairly even-keeled person. I have 20 years of training in the mental health field and I work daily at finding ways to be a more self-actualized mother, daughter, sister, wife, and employee. However, if there is one thing that sends me to the stratosphere, it’s when someone tells me to “calm down.” And yet, I say those words to my daughter all the time.  

It is so challenging to dig deeper than a “Calm down!” and find another strategy. But I’ve begun to appreciate that helping kids cope with big emotions is a two-way street. By identifying and managing my own triggers, I’m better-equipped to show my daughter how to identify and manage hers. Here are a few things that I am currently trying myself:

  1. Take a deep breath When you feel those words (“Calm down!”) about to come out of your mouth, it means that you’re approaching your kid’s level of agitation. Before you escalate the situation, take a moment to consider why you’re so worked up. Are you irritated because your kid is having a meltdown at the DMV, or because you made a mistake at work or you feel guilty that you forgot yet another important appointment? It’s important to remember that our everyday stressors often amplify our reactions to our kids’ behavior. Taking a deep breath, or even stepping away for a moment, allows me to put aside whatever may be bothering me and treat your big-emotioned child with more compassion and less frustration.

  2. Ask a question You’re probably used to making demands (“Don’t do that!”) when your child is acting out. Instead, try asking a question: Why are you feeling the way you’re feeling? What’s going on that’s making you have a difficult moment right now? Kids have more emotional intelligence than we give them credit for. They’re not often asked to self-reflect, though. Asking a question like “Where is this coming from?” gives your kid the chance to move past the immediacy of their feelings and think about how they got there in the first place.

  3. Use humor! My husband is an expert at cracking a joke when my daughter’s in the middle of an outburst. Ninety percent of the time, it helps defuse the tension in the room. Once, when my daughter was writhing on the floor and we were running late for school, my husband asked her, “Who taught you how to breakdance?” We all immediately started cracking up. You of course don’t want to demean or ridicule your child, but cracking a joke when things are intense can be really useful.

  4. Check in with their body Most adults know about the connection between our emotional states and our bodies. Does your kid? When they’re mid-tantrum, see if you can get them to feel their heartbeat. Then encourage them to try to slow their heart rate down. This trick, a type of mindfulness, is one that your kid can use in other situations when they feel themselves losing control.

All of these tips show that helping your kid deal with Big Emotions is a collaborative process. Telling them to calm or stop will only get you so far. What you can do instead is work together to figure out why they’re feeling how they’re feeling, find fun ways to feel better in the moment, and learn how to deal with their emotions in a healthier way in the future.

The full version of this article appeared on PsychCentral and is part of a guest contributor series with Mightier’s Dr. Erina White.

5 Tips For Reducing Holiday Stress From the Mightier Coaches


“Oh, my gosh. The kids are off from school for two weeks.”

Is your reaction to winter break and the holiday season the former (elation)? The latter (dread)? Or somewhere in between? For parents, the holidays can be equally exhilarating and exasperating. There are few things more pure than a child’s anticipation before opening presents. On the flip side, there are few situations more aggravating than trying to cook a meal for 10 while your house buzzes with kids hopped up on Christmas cookies. To help parents navigate this hectic time of year, Mightier’s Parent Coaches have compiled this list of strategies for reducing holiday stress:

  1. Stick to your normal routine. The whirlwind of the holiday season will more than likely throw your schedule out of whack, especially if you and your family are traveling. To the extent that you can, try to maintain your normal routines. Coach Emily Stone says you should “pay particular attention to what time your kids are eating and sleeping.” Meals at odd hours and late bedtimes can lead to both crankiness and hyperactivity. All that said, if there’s any time to let your kids (and yourself!) break the rules a little, it’s around the holidays.

  2. Make a list! The first thing you should do if you’re feeling overwhelmed by everything on your plate is take a deep breath. Remember: you got this. Next, break out the pen and paper and make a list: a shopping list, list of errands, meal planning ideas—you know the drill. Along with the types of lists you’ve made in the past, Coach Lara Smith suggests jotting down ideas about less tangible things you want to accomplish, such as connecting with family members, creating a space to experience gratitude, and having fun. Lara is also a fan of journaling. “Since holidays bring up lots of feelings, it can be therapeutic to put them down on paper,” she says.

  3. Stay active. You’ve heard it a million times: exercise is a stress reliever and an energy booster. Still, it’s easy to forget about working out when you’re trying to get the guest room ready for the in-laws, the turkey is taking forever to thaw, and Amazon is telling you that you have 37 minutes to place an order if you want the kids’ presents to arrive on time. If time is of the essence and you can’t leave the family alone to go to the gym, try rallying the troops for a walk around the neighborhood. You might hear some grumbling about the cold, but seeing the neighbors’ decorations and feeling the holiday spirit will put everyone in a celebratory mood. If you’re traveling, Coach Suzanne Wintner recommends packing your workout gear and downloading an exercise routine on to your phone.

  4. Make a gratitude tree. This tip comes from Coach Jenna Rosenbloom. Even though Thanksgiving is in the rearview mirror, it’s not too late to acknowledge the things you’re grateful for. Practicing gratitude is a simple way to reduce stress. To make a gratitude tree, you’ll need a small plastic tree, pieces of paper to write or draw on, some writing utensils (e.g., pens, colored pencils, markers), a hole puncher, and string to tie the pieces of paper to the branches. Tell everyone in the family to write down or draw things they’re grateful for. You can leave the materials out for a few days so that people have time to think about what they want to highlight on their gratitude “leaf.” Given the focus on gifts around the holidays, this exercise can be an opportunity for you and your loved ones to meditate on the non-material things that bring you joy.

  5. Let go of the self-judgment. Hosting holiday gatherings can be very anxiety-provoking. You have to worry about food, drinks, dietary restrictions, seating arrangements, topics that are off-limits, pre- and post-meal activities—the list is daunting. With all the pressure to entertain and impress, you may begin to feel self-conscious. That’s completely normal. But Coach Jessie Ragnio wants to remind you that no one—in-laws included!—judges your home or your cooking or your kids’ behavior as harshly as you do. It might not always be obvious, but your guests are there to feel loved and seen and to make others feel the same.

  6. Stay in the moment. When you first started seeing Thanksgiving displays at the supermarket and hearing Christmas songs on the radio, you may have thought to yourself, “Already?!” While the holiday season seems to begin earlier every year, it’s gone before you know it. At holiday parties, Coach Suzanne Nystrom likes to take a moment to look around the room and really appreciate all the smiling faces, laughter, and joy. Make sure you take advantage of the activities you can't do during other times of the year, whether that’s seeing Christmas lights around the neighborhood, going sledding with your kids in the park, or just sitting in front of the fireplace with a hot beverage. When your living room is a minefield of boxes and wrapping paper, focus on the fact that you’ll miss this scene one day, especially the kiddos at the center of it.

Many thanks to our Mightier coaches for coming up with these tips. Happy holidays!!!

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I’m a therapist, but I’m also a mom, wife, sister and daughter. Never in my whole life has someone telling me to “calm down” actually worked. In fact, if my husband says to me, to “Calm down. Take a deep breath.” I feel all of my 20 years of mental health training go out the door and I’m lucky to remember to take a deep breath before saying something I will really regret.

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