Handling tantrums can be tricky and tiring. When children feel big emotions, such as anger, frustration, impatience, and sadness, sometimes they don’t know how to handle them…leading to big meltdowns! There are things parents and caregivers can do to help children cope with feelings big and small.
The resources in this bundle will…
- outline some common reasons for challenging behaviors and tantrums,
- offer strategies and activities caregivers and parents can try to help children cope with big feelings,
- and help grown-ups stay calm when tantrums do happen!
For providers: The last section in this bundle provides related resources and facilitation tips for you to use with FFN providers and parents in your setting.
Social Chat –
In this video, provider to FFNs (family, friend, and neighbor caregivers), Zoraima Rosario-Rolón chats with Sesame’s Rocio Galarza about tantrums, including how to anticipate, prevent, navigate, and recover.
As you watch the video, keep an open mind about how you deal with challenging behaviors, and what you might try to make things go more smoothly for everyone.
Smell the Flowers
Taking deep belly breaths is just one way to help children (and grown-ups) feel calm, any time and any place. There are many imaginative ways to encourage children to breathe deeply. You might pretend to blow up a big beach ball or imagine the rise and fall of their bellies as the rise and fall of ocean waves. You might also invite them to breathe in deeply through their noses to “smell” a flower, then blow out slowly through their mouths as if blowing the seeds off a dandelion.
This adult-child coloring sheet can help children and grown-ups relax, collaborate, bond, and talk together. Adults and kids can sit side by side in a quiet space with a surface. Kids color the Muppets, adults color the background (it’s okay to sit without talking and there’s no right or wrong way to color!). Display the completed page in a place visible to everyone, to remember the time they spent together…and to breathe deep.
We Can Calm Down
Everything is more difficult when you feel upset. When our feelings feel a bit out of control, even routine tasks or our usual interactions can seem impossible. This is true for adults, so imagine how difficult it must be for young children. That’s why it’s important to develop a toolbox of tricks, techniques, and resources to help young people and adults manage their big feelings.
When your brain is calm, it tells your body to take deep, slow breaths. But that conversation between the brain and body goes both ways, so if you take deep, slow breaths, it tells your brain to calm down. There are so many ways to use breathing to calm down. In addition to Smelling the Flowers, both adults and children can use these techniques:
- Stuffed Animal Ride – Have your child lay down on their back and place a small stuffed animal on her belly. Then say, “You’re going to give your stuffie a ride, but we have to make sure it’s nice and slow so he doesn’t get scared.” Have your child take a slow, deep breath in to fill her belly and make the stuffed animal rise, then have her release the breath to slowly let the animal drop back down. Repeat this four or five times.
- Snake Breath – Tell your child to take a very deep breath, hold it for a moment, then let it out very slowly by hissing like a snake. Count as your child hisses, asking “how long can you make your snake hiss last?” Repeat this four or five times.
- Mountain Breaths – Have your child hold up a hand, fingers spread out. Have him place the index finger of his other hand at the outside bottom of his thumb. Say, “Now we’re going to climb up and down the mountain!” Have your child move his index finger slowly up the thumb while taking a breath in, then have him move his index finger slowly down the other side of the thumb while breathing out. Continue this as he moves through the fingers on his hand, breathing in as he moves up and out as he moves down.
Play a Focus Game
When our feelings are out of control, it can feel like a thousand things are happening at once. A great way to calm down is to focus on just one thing. There are quick and easy ways to do this:
- Animal Alphabet – Ask your child to make up a list of animals using the ABCs. For example, they might start with, “Alligator, Bear, Cow, Donkey, Elephant…” This takes a little bit of concentration, so it can help quiet overactive minds.
- Story of the Day – Have your child think about the very beginning of the day. Ask, “what was the very first thing you did when you woke up?” Then, have her say the very next thing she did. Then the next, and the next. Have her mention the most specific details she can think of (“I got out of bed. I walked to my closet. I put on a new shirt.”)
Focusing your brain on something else is also a great exercise for adults. In addition to the above, you might try making other, non-stressful lists, such as groceries to buy or the names of your childhood teachers.
Have a Calming Space
We all have certain places that help us feel calmer, particular objects that are calming to touch, and sounds, sights, and smells that bring us peace. A great calm-down strategy is to help your child identify these kinds of soothing objects to create a small calming space for them. The space can have soft blankets to cuddle, comforting stuffed animals, and any other elements that helps your child feel at ease. Then, if your child is having a tantrum, they can spend a minute in their calming space.
It’s very important for parents and caregivers to have a calming space of their own as well. Just having a place that is your own to take a private moment to breathe and collect yourself can be all you need to keep your temper in check and do some self-care.
Tips & Tools for Providers-
You can use the resources in this bundle to host a workshop for parents and FFN caregivers in your setting. Consider the following ideas and facilitation tips to provide a high-quality, informative, and playful experience!
- Begin by watching the “chat” video together with parents and/or FFNs. Discuss the ideas from the video and invite participants to share how they handle—or how they’d like to handle—challenging behaviors and tantrums. Assure caregivers that there’s no one ‘right’ way to help kids cope, but that there are many things they can try.
- Print and share the We Can Calm Down article and reference it for more ideas and discussion prompts.
- Finally, if you have more time, introduce more resources from SSIC.org that support the theme, such as:
Facilitation Tip: Show caregivers the power of sensory play by providing calming bottles, modeling clay, crayons, or even a handful of building blocks as table centerpieces. Invite caregivers to play during the session, especially if they’re feeling tense!
For even more learning on this topic, check out our Circles of Care course!