Learning how to calm an upset child, or navigate their ‘big’ feelings, is probably one of the hardest things that us parents have to do. There are a few steps that I use to calm my upset child. But first, I want to share a moment that I had with my daughter recently.

Right after what I thought was a fun time in the bathtub, Josie walked out of the bathroom and laid on her bedroom floor crying.  When I asked what was wrong, she said “English is the worsest, you just can’t say words correctly. I have a hard time explaining words.”

She was extremely upset, couldn’t stop crying and I proceeded to help her. Out of habit, I said “You’re ok, Jos. We will work through this together.” I immediately remembered that the phrase “You’re ok” is actually NOT the best to use in a moment like this. Turns out I’m human and I make mistakes, too.

Let me explain to you why we should work on no longer using that phrase.

When you are experiencing feelings of anger, sadness or anything in that realm, the last thing you want to hear is, “You’ll be ok.” But, why is that? Well, because you are currently very much NOT okay, you are upset. Maybe all you want to do is cry, scream or be held. If the person you’re talking to says, “You’re ok,” it can make you feel silly for crying or that it’s wrong. So you try to calm yourself down …instead of explaining WHY you’re upset.

Saying this to a child can have the same effect. Except that they don’t know how to calm themselves down just yet, so they continue to cry and it becomes a full blown meltdown. Instead of trying to immediately stop them from crying, follow these simple steps and help them through it:

  1. Get on their level: lay on the floor, their bed or wherever they are. 
  2. Identify the problem: ask what is wrong or what they are feeling.
  3. Validate their feelings: let them know that it is ok for them to feel this way
  4. Offer help: reassure them that they are not alone and that you can figure it out together

I followed these steps with Josie and once I noticed that she was a bit more calm, I asked if she wanted me to hold her.  Sometimes as parents, we want to immediately run to their aid but they don’t always need a hug or maybe they do but on their own time. Give them some space but let them know that you are there if they need some extra love.

Don’t beat yourself up if you are the parent who automatically says, “It’s ok”.  Whether you are a first-time parent or a parent of multiple children, this is still a learning experience and a hard one at that. Remember that you are doing the best you can.

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