During developmental screenings, parents often tell me their child has trouble with “big” emotions–anger and frustration–and goes from “zero-to-sixty” when they don’t get their way.
What most parents are witnessing is more likely a child who is actually very successful in self-regulating from stress throughout the day!
These children don’t have multiple outbursts over every little thing. They adapt and adjust over and over throughout the day. Because they are so successful at adapting and adjusting, you don’t notice it! Every time they are told to “wait.” Every time their sibling grabs a toy. Every time an adult tells them, “no;” “not now;” “I’m busy.” Every time there is a change in routine. They handle their emotions so well you don’t know it’s happening!
But adapting and adjusting only takes you so far. If there is no “reset” back down to “calm,” then every little thing that happens just builds up inside and gets them closer and closer to their breaking point. When that line finally gets crossed it contains the full impact of all the other stressors that had happened previously.
Resetting back to calm means that we don’t just “handle” stressors…we also give ourselves the time and space to relax and self soothe. Helping your child identify what works best for them can be a great prevention strategy.
Self soothing examples:
- Weighted blanket to cuddle
- Vibrating stuffed animal to cuddle
- Physical activity, like running up and down the stairs
- Swinging on the swing-set or rocking in a rocking chair
- Digging in the sandbox or garden
- Running hands under water
- Splashing cold water on face
- Standing in front of a fan
- Going to a “safe/sanctuary” for alone time (could be bedroom, could be a large cardboard box, could be a tent or blanket fort)
- Listening to music
- Blowing soap bubbles
- Playing with a pet
- Playing an instrument
- Reading or listening to an audio book
- Taking a bath or shower
In time, your child might be able to identify when they need a “self soothe break” after adjusting to something we might not even realize is a stressor–and this, in turn, might prevent a larger meltdown later. Giving your child praise for making good choices when they relax and self soothe helps to build the habit. Also, pointing out healthy ways that YOU as the adult self soothe provides an example of a lifelong skill.