Helping Children Master Stressful Moments
Updated: Jul 11, 2022
Caring for young children naturally leads to many stressful moments. When these difficult moments occur, children become impulsive and aggressive, display challenging behaviors, and may lock in and fight even your simplest request! During this video, we explore the most helpful adult responses during these moments with infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and older children. In just 15 minutes, learn the top (and surprising) strategy that will help you gain cooperation as quickly as possible, diffuse the situation, and positively redirect the child to appropriate behaviors ASAP! If you prefer, read the short article and check out the links below with FREE resources to teach children how to breathe during tense times.
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When working with children during stressful moments, our reaction will make all the difference! You know this so you make sure to remain calm (If you have difficulty with this - first watch the last blog on mastering your own stressful moments!)
The reality is, we learn how to override our first gut response as we grow. And, let's face it some of us (me included) still struggle. For young children, when the stress hormone is pumping through their veins, it is very difficult and often impossible to act "appropriately". Our youth will need a lot of support, learning opportunities, and guidance to gain the skills needed to be able to master stressful moments on their own. This Nugget helps us get a better understanding of how to help young children manage their emotions during tense times. It also provides a few tips that we can do as adults to help children stay calm during these difficult situations.
What do you need when you're stressed? Me? I need to move. It helps to walk away, breathe, clean, walk around the room or actually get out of the house for a bit can help. Acknowledging what you need when you are stressed will help you better understand how to help young children, and others master their stressful moments.
Throughout this video, I will talk about how to help manage stress in young children by making sure they feel heard and supported through a three-step process:
1) "Infuse calm" into the situation. Stress is "catchy". When cortisol (the main stress hormone) is elevated in my body, it is also elevated in my child, and vice versa. This explains why the adult caring for a crying infant hands the child to someone new to the situation, and all of a sudden the baby calms. This is also why you may have found, "Why is it every time I NEED them to behave, they fall apart!" When a child is overwhelmed, they need us to model that everything will be okay. With a low and calm voice, filled with authentic, say "Your face is so tense, you look sad (mad, frustrated...) It's okay, you're gonna be okay. I know that you are feeling (insert feeling), but it will be okay." Take another deep breathe. Here is an excellent video by Dr. Becky Bailey (Conscious Discipline) discussing how to do this during a tantrum).
2) Tune in to what it is the child is experiencing and what they need. While you may just be thinking "Oh, they are doing this to get at me!" "They are manipulating me!" Or, "This is not that big of a deal!" The reality is, this child at this moment has the same fight, flight or freeze feeling you get when you are devastated and overwhelmed. Try to put yourself in the body and heart of the child and feel what is happening for the child. Take a moment to really assess the situation and see if you can pinpoint what they are feeling and put words to it. Sometimes it will be a hug and talking about what they are feeling, but other times the child may just need to be left alone for a few minutes to calm themselves down before they are able to move on. (I give real life stories and examples in the video for this nugget!
3) Label what you observe with empathy and understanding. As adults, we have been through many different situations that have taught us how to handle our emotions when we get worked up. However, think about a young child who does not have as much life experience as we do when it comes to handling different situations. They have not yet developed a sense of what to do when they are stressed so it is up to us adults to help them get through it by reflecting on what we have been through and how we got through those tough times.
No one ever said working with kids or raising kids was easy, but something that can make it easier is by observing and listening. Even if the young child does not know exactly what they need, we are able to use what we know to help them work through their feeling and process challenging moments. When you can remain present, helpful, and calm during the tough times, you will be fostering a sense of trust and helping them build skills for a better and brighter future.
Helpful Resources to Teach Children to Breathe instead of act out:
You can actually help children build the brain pathways to be able to calm their body through breathing (rather than act out). Practice during regular story times, model while you are doing your work when you feel a bit of strain, and make it playful and fun. Then, when children are having a difficult moment, it will be easier to actual use the strategy!
Dr. Becky Bailey (Conscious Discipline) teaching many strategies to Kindergarteners - https://consciousdiscipline.com/videos/i-can-calm-book-teach-composure-and-increase-literacy/
Eight Fun Breathing Exercises for Kids (free printable) - https://childhood101.com/fun-breathing-exercises-for-kids/
Help child learn and do 4-square breathing – 4-4-4 Video illustrating: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YFdZXwE6fRE
Teach to make "arm pretzels" and other strategies to breathe to "reset" when upset - Here is the link to the Conscious Discipline visuals for this and other strategies - https://consciousdiscipline.s3.amazonaws.com/Free-Resources/Printable-Posters-Tools-Activities/FREE-Printable-Safe_Place_Breathing_Icons.pdf
Another site with pictures of kids doing it - https://kidsplaysmarter.com/10-ways-to-calm-down-without-anyone-knowing/
Video with children demonstrating - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T-5MjiwwZNI
"Smell the rose and blow out the candle" (This Sesame Street video and description actually teaches it to young students!) - https://sesamestreetincommunities.org/activities/breathe-bundle/
One last one I have used that kiddos seem to like - Show model and demonstrate "Squeeze the oranges"(squeezing your hand into a fist) and then "Shake off the juice!" (shake hands as you breathe out). Take notice, verbally, how this helps you calm. Next time you are feeling stressed, YOU do it! After all, the kids copy what we do... out positive and negative reactions to stressful moments! :)
Tips for adults while you are teaching this skills:
Tips to Teach Kids Mindful Breathing - https://www.thetappingsolution.com/blog/10-tips-teaching-kids-mindful-breathing/More Tips for adults and breathing exercises - https://www.lianalowenstein.com/articleProfDeepBreathing.pdf