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We’ve all been there. You ask your child to do something seemingly simple and suddenly, here come the waterworks. Then, your own frustration and confusion build because nothing you say or do can calm down kids in this state. The truth is, there’s usually more going on in your child’s brain than resisting doing as he or she is told.
Amanda, of the parenting blog Dirt & Boogers, is a former mental health counselor for mothers and children, and has a bachelor’s degree in child development and family studies and masters in counseling, and she recently shared a way to calm kids down with a simple brain game.
Start By Understanding the Emotional Brain
If you’re familiar with the fascinating work of Dr. Daniel J. Siegel and Dr. Tina Payne Bryson (“The Whole Brain Child;” “No Drama Discipline“) you’re probably aware of the concept of the upstairs and downstairs brain. As adults, we’ve hopefully had the time and nurturing to develop the upstairs brain which houses the logical, problem-solving functions. But as children, we live in the downstairs brain which houses our basic survival skills, and can cause us to deal with issues emotionally or with a “fight or flight” response.
Amanda explains that when we’re stuck in the limbic system (downstairs brain) it’s hard for us to control our emotions so much so that “we can’t think straight.” The key to calm down kids and pull them back from the brink is as simple as getting them thinking. “This moves brain functioning from the emotional brain to the logical brain,” says Amanda.
Play a Brain Game to Calm Down Kids
Ready to unlock the magic of the brain? Next time your little one gets overwhelmed and can’t calm down, try this simple method:
- Get their attention. Ask if they want to play a fun game and show them you’re excited too.
- Give them a challenge like finding five things of the same color in the room, naming their three favorite toys/foods/books, naming three things they can touch, hear or see, doing a simple addition or subtraction problem, etc.
- Once they’ve calmed down, and have completed the challenge, take the time to connect with them further. Talk through what they were feeling and how you can solve it together. You can then hopefully go about what you were trying to do.
By using this strategy, you engage their upstairs brain to help them problem solve, and connect with them so they know they are heard and understood.
I’m here to tell you that this worked like a dream when I tried it out with my 3-year-old. Her dad popped her into the bath before she was ready, and she quickly became inconsolable. I peeked into the room and asked her if she wanted to play a color game. She sniffled a little more, but started to look more hopeful and excitedly agreed. After she named all the green in the room and then moved on to other colors (all while she happily took a bath and got in her pajamas), she told me, “Thank you for teaching me the color game, mama.” And my heart promptly melted all over. I will definitely be using this strategy moving forward!