Big Upsets? The Three C’s of Calming Down

I have a child in mind … crying and wailing, stomping and screaming. How can we help young ones calm down? The secret lies with us.  Grown-ups’ reactions can determine the course of a meltdown. The ball is largely in our court.

It doesn’t really seem fair … child meltdowns inconvenience the adult agenda, right?  Then why must the adult orchestrate the calm-down? Many parents bring children to therapy to acquire emotional “tools.”  But equipping the child is only half the work.

Within the child, a meltdown is a cataclysmic force.  Like a “volcano tsunami,” an articulate 2nd-grader explained. (Now that he has such words!)  Reasoning goes off-line like the internet in a downpour.  Parents say: “There’s no talking to her when she gets like that.”   “He gets this glazed look and I can’t reach him.”  If parental agitation escalates, the child perceives a Grand Canyon-sized gulf between one’s anguished self and the adult whose help he needs.

In the young years, calming down is a two-player game.  Adult frustration can generate auto-responses, such as “Quit acting like a baby,” or “Stop it, you are just fine!  But telling a distressed child she’s “fine” is like ordering rain back up into the clouds. Calming down is a complex, full-body skill to be learned.  And no one can be embarrassed or disciplined into a learning a new skill.

To assist parents, I created a quick, portable tool: THE THREE C’s for Helping a Child Calm Down.  The work of two psychology heroes of mine, Drs. Dan Siegel and Becky Bailey (see below), inspires this approach.

  1. CONNECT with your child through empathy. Stand in her shoes. Describe your compassionate grasp of her feelings  (“Oh, this is so hard for you / You really wanted that …”).  Don’t know what’s wrong? Say, “Ohh, tell me all about it.” Empathy calms the brain’s limbic system enabling the cortex to problem solve.  This is Step One, because nothing positive can happen until your child feels “felt” by you.   The Message: “I notice and care about your feelings.”
  2. COOL DOWN yourself first (count to 10, say a mantra “we can do this”), then cool down your child.  Guide and join him in body-calming strategies – watch his reactions and adjust your moves (hug him, stroke his back, say “Let’s breathe together,” “Let’s shake out our hands …”)  The Message: “We can cool you down together – I’m with you.”
  3. COACH your child in a guiding spirit.  Start the ball rolling, point her in the right direction, let her carry the ball across the finish line.  Think of yourself as a sports coach instructing others’ children – teaching a skill.  The Message: “Together we can get through this moment.”  Coaching may look like:
    • “You be the picker – this arm first, or that one” [through a sleeve]
    • Let’s give your brain a break for a minute, and think about something happy – like HoneyBear”
    • “I  wonder if you try that [puzzle] piece over in this area …”

While not a panacea, the Three C’s form a component of my interventions across a wide diversity of child conditions, including ones that bring severe impairment.  Try the Three C’s – your child’s meltdowns may have a lot less lava!

Literature of interestParenting From the Inside Out – Daniel Siegel & Mary Hartzell / Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline – Becky Bailey.

#parenting #child #meltdowns

3 Comments on “Big Upsets? The Three C’s of Calming Down”

  1. Dr. Beth,

    This is so perfect and so much “everything” I know to be right both profressionally and personally…and I have seen it work both in my practice and in my home! I am so honored to be acquainted with you! You just make sense…on so many levels!

    Wendy @Kidlutions

  2. Sheraz Ahmad says:

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