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  • Writer's pictureRaelene Ostberg, M.Ed.

Teaching Children to Master Their OWN Stressful Moments

Updated: Jan 30

Crying, whining, yelling, hitting, kicking and more is what young children have a tendency to do when they are upset! It takes time and practice to be able to manage difficult and stressful moments (let's face, some adults are STILL not that great at it!) With the right support, young children can learn to override their instinctual aggressive impulses and choose appropriate responses under stress. That is where you and I come in! I will guide you through the steps to help teach kids to manage their stress in difficult situations so that you will be able to better understand what your children and feeling.

This video will help answer two main questions when it comes to helping to teach kids how to manage their stressful moments!

*How do we get a child to calm down during the most difficult times?

*Then, after the stressful moment has subsided, what can we teach to avoid the meltdown in the future?

These two questions will help you think about how to teach the young children in your life what to do when they feel stressed. The tips will help them learn how to manage stressful moments by practicing calm down techniques when they are not stressed so when they are feeling immense strain, they know what to do! These tools are illustrated in the video above, and more!

  1. Provide soothing touch and words of encouragement. I remember learning a hug can go a long way! My three year-old was falling apart (of course right when I needed to get out the door! I said, "Oh honey, I have been rushing you haven't I? Do you need a hug?" ... then "HUG HUG HUG HUG HUG" in a playful voice along with a big squeeze. That was it! Out the door with NO MORE DODDLING! So great! Of course, it is important that you read the child's body language to see how to help. Some people need physical touch or talking it out in order to calm down. Others need quiet space with solo time in order to process their feelings and regroup.

  2. "SQUEEZE the oranges, Shake off the Juice!" Simply squeeze your hands really tight and then shake them out as you say these words. This is a great thing to do with your kids when they get upset as it encourages breathing and a brief physical release. To practice, grab some oranges and squeeze all the juices out and then shake the juices off. Once they get a feel for this the next time they are getting upset you will be able to refer back to the time you practices with oranges. Tell them to squeeze their fists and then shake off those intense feelings.

  3. The "Reset" Pretend you are blowing up a balloon as you fill your belly with air and raise your hands above your head. Then, quickly release all the air. This one is to help them take a deep breath. They will breathe in to fill up the "balloon" in their belly and then let all of their air out. Sometime it helps to make a silly sound (similar to what a balloon sounds like as the air rushes out).

  4. Help the child learn to calm through books. Books are not only fun, but they can also be educational! There are great books about how to manage stress and emotions properly. Scroll down at this link to the "Book Nooks" which contain numerous ideas to address different challenges, including big emotions - My favorite are "Mouse was Mad", "I can Share", "Too Loud Lily", or "Quiet, LOUD". All include helpful skills to teach the social and emotional skills needed to calm and avoid negative behaviors.

  5. Learn through useful media. Media can be a very useful tool when learning, as long as it is educational! I'm not all for media but I can tell you and you might have noticed there are some videos out there that are great at helping teach about emotions. PBS has a link that you can go to the Daniel the Tiger shows and some other resources that actually teach kids how to do this. They teach the kids how to calm themselves down!

  6. Talk about Emotional Eruptions (and what you can do about them)! With children three and older, this activity can work wonders (it did for me - life changing and skill teaching for my 3 and 6 year-old - Watch the video to see the process to use and the story).

During this exercise, you will build a volcano as a fun way to help children identify what elevates their stress and causes a "bubble over" (otherwise known as melt down) and what helps you feel better (your cotton balls). What you need: a container, baking soda, a mix of water, vinegar and a bit of dish soap, and cotton balls! I learned this one from Mary Sheedy Kurcinka (Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles). This book (and Mary) are truly remarkable and a great resource. Check out her blog here:

  • The first step is with the baking soda. This will represent all of the things that make them feel mad, sad, frustrated, etc. Ask them to think about what upsets them (friends, taking toys, when a parent leaves, etc.) As they identify what increases negative feelings, put a teaspoon or so of baking soda in a container.

  • When you get toward the end of the list, get ready to add the vinegar! This represents the final straw; the thing that pushes them over the edge (a friend takes your toy again). This is when the mix will start bubbling and bubble over the container. This represents how our emotions can bubble over and we might "lose it". Toddlers and young preschoolers will get more into the game and will listen to some of what you say (but are more focused on the fun of it.) For older children, after this "experiment", it a great time to talk with the child about how they feel when their emotions get the best of them and what they can do about it.

  • After the bubbly mess has calmed, it is time to identify their "cotton balls". Take a moment to feel the soft cotton and say "Aren't these so soft... don't they feel good?" Ask the children, "What are the things that help you feel better and calm your mad bubbles? (dance, coloring, hugs, a break in the calm area, etc.)? What helps you feel happy again?" As they are saying things, add the cotton balls to the same container as the bubbly mixture. *Take note, their answers will give you insight into what help the child recover from difficult moments in the future!

  • The final step! Now, revisit the stressful situation. "So, imagine you have gotten a hug, took a break, or...[insert what they have said here]." NOW, your friend is goes to take your toy again and ..." Add some vinegar to the mix. Notice out loud how the cotton balls make it so the bubbles DO NOT bubble over! Point this out for the children, "LOOK! It is not bubbling over! The cotton balls are helping!" Follow up with, "Great work! You have identified potential ways to keep calm and how they can help you avoid a meltdown! When you can feel yourself getting upset, you have tools that can help you calm inside so you do not bubble over!

With your guidance, love, and teaching, children will learn the skills needed to thrive - today AND tomorrow. Keep on supporting children during their most difficult moments (and outside of them), and you are doing truly critical work that impacts all of our future. Thank you for all you do!

Visit the Naptime Nugget 11 Blog to learn more and see the list of great ideas for teaching children to calm by breathing, in fun and interesting ways, outside of the moment!

For more information on upcoming webinars and on-demand courses, check out

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