How to help your child calm down
Try this fun activity to quickly get your child to calm down and follow your instructions.
Most issues I deal with in my practice as a play therapist have to do with regulating children’s behaviour. You know, dealing with those unmanageable, out-of-control behaviour all parents are familiar with. It also includes dealing with sad and fearful feelings.
Usually, when children misbehave, get too excited, or act out in response to fear or sadness, our first response is to say “Calm Down” or “Relax”, often in a stern and controlling voice.
Unfortunately, our responses to these behaviours do not always help. What will help your child calm down is to activate what Dr Stephen Porges refers to as the “social engagement system”.
What does that mean?
To explain the social engagement system, let’s quickly revisit the fight, flight and freeze response.
Imagine for a second that a BIG, SCARY, AGRESSIVE stranger is racing toward you, ready to attack. If you are like most people, you will go into a reactive state where you will either fight off the attack or run away.
At that moment, your heart rate will increase to pump more blood and oxygen to your lungs and muscles. Your body produces more glucose for energy, and your pupils dilate to help you scan nearby surroundings for the quickest escape.
We are all familiar with this response, right?
Now, the opposite of this reactive state is the receptive state.
In the receptive state, there is no threat. There is no aggressive person, animal or situation about to hurt you. All the muscles in your body, face and vocal cords relax. You become more aware of external sensory signals, including temperature, sound, smell, sight, etc.
You also become more aware of the internal signals your body is giving you; things like knowing when you are tired, hungry, have a full bladder or feeling ill. Having a sense of these internal signals also help you to be more aware of your own and other people’s emotions.
So, this is the state you would need your child to be in so they can regulate their emotions, calm down, and listen to you.
The question is, how would you get your child to this calm, receptive state without medicating them with harmful drugs?
The Calm Down State
The answer is quite simple, actually. To help your child calm down, you have to activate their social engagement system by playing with them.
YOU HAVE TO PLAY WITH YOUR CHILD!
Let me explain …
Most mammals are born with a social engagement system that is activated through physical mobility and social referencing.
Picture it, you and your child kick a ball outside, play a chasey game, build a castle with Lego or bake some cookies in the kitchen. It can be any activity where you move and have fun together.
Every so often, you quickly look at each other to send a message: “We are having fun.” “We are not fighting”.
You can also send these messages by speaking to each other in a calm, playful voice.
As you and your child happily engage in an activity where you frequently look at and speak to each other, the following happens:
- Presence: With all the phones, computers and other distractions out of the way, you are fully present with your child.
- Attunement: Being fully present leads to being attuned to each other. You begin to relate and respond to each other in positive ways.
- Resonance: Once you are attuned, you begin to resonate with each other’s feeling states. You begin to share the same emotions.
- Trust: Once you resonate and share the same feelings, you have built trust with each other.
As Daniel Siegel would say, Congratulations! You have just turned on your child’s social engagement system.
All that was needed was the best P.A.R.T. (s) during play:
Presence; Attunement; Resonance; Trust
This repetitive cycle of play and looking at, or speaking to each other, will help to turn down your child’s defensive system and regulate their fight-flight and freeze response. And, when they are in this calm, receptive state where they feel safe with you, you have won their trust.
This would be the perfect opportunity to share your wisdom and perhaps convince them to finish their chores.
So there you have it! You now know one more strategy to help your child calm down.
Have fun 😊
Please know that you do not have to struggle through trying to manage your child’s behaviour on your own. It helps to have someone to talk to. If you would like extra guidance on coping with your child’s behaviour, book in for a therapy session with Laurinda today.
I would love to hear your thoughts on these strategies. Do you think this will work for you? If not, why not? What obstacles do you face that are not addressed in this blog post?