4. Validate Feelings
“Validation is a powerful tool for helping kids calm down by communicating that you understand and accept what they’re feeling,” writes Caroline Miller, editorial director of the Child Mind Institute. Instead of trying to deny, fix or change their feelings, make it clear that you just…get it. Per Dr. Vieira, one way to do this is by making neutral observations that acknowledge their fear, while also stating the facts, such as, “Wow, you’re really scared right now. You’re also safe. I’m here.” (Bonus points if they repeat it with you like a magic calming mantra.)
Echoing the advice, Miller explains that the reason why this works is that “feeling understood…helps kids let go of powerful feelings. 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.”
Dr. Clark Goldstein, a specialist in childhood mood disorders and anxiety, points out that, “you can’t promise a child that his fears are unrealistic—that he won’t fail a test, that he’ll have fun ice skating or that another child won’t laugh at him during show and tell. But you can express confidence that he’s going to be OK, he will be able to manage it and that, as he faces his fears, the anxiety level will drop over time. This gives him confidence that your expectations are realistic, and that you’re not going to ask him to do something he can’t handle.”
The takeaway? If you want to teach your child how to be resilient and self-regulate, the best way to do so is by encouraging them to accept and work through their fears, not attempt to deny them. After all, “any feeling is normal and there’s no such thing as a ‘bad feeling,’” says Dr. Vieira.
5. Blow it Out
When kids are anxious, the goal is to get them to take deeper breaths, which physiologically calms them. Leyba suggests having a whistling contest or pretending your (or their) fingers are birthday candles and then having your child blow them out. You might also carry a pinwheel in your bag and have little ones blow it for a few minutes. Blowing bubbles is an equally great (if potentially messier) on-the-go option.