The Most Powerful Response When Your Child is Inconsolable
If you’ve ever tried to help a crying kid calm down, this might sound familiar to you.
My 4 year old stands there bawling in the middle of his room.
All I did was ask him to put away the Duplo bricks that have been haphazardly strewn all across his room, and he loses it.
“Kiddo, I don’t understand why you’re so upset, can you tell me why you’re so sad?” He looks at me and bawls harder.
I drop to my knees and pull him into a big hug and say “Hey buddy, it won’t take too long to put away the Duplos…” his loud cries interrupt me.
I start to get frustrated. All I want him to do is put away the random bricks laying around the room, it’s not that big of a deal. To me at least.
Impatiently, I hold my boy a little longer and ask him again to tell me why he’s crying.
Between the hiccups and wails, I hear him say something about his inventions.
Then it clicks.
I look around the room and see them. His inventions.
My boy has spent all week long building inventions out of Duplos. He spends hours getting them just right and even more hours playing with each and every one. It’s all he’s played with for days.
And here I am, asking him to put away his Duplo.
Of course, he’s upset.
But there’s been a miscommunication problem here. I wasn’t asking him to take apart his inventions. I was just asking that he put away all the extra bricks that weren’t being played with.
So I try to tell him that he gets to keep his inventions.
I ask him to only put away the extra bricks that aren’t being used.
Even more crying.
I try reflecting his feelings. “Oh honey, you’re so upset. You don’t want to clean up your Duplo.”
Now he’s wailing.
This kid is so upset that he can’t hear me.
His brain is being so flooded with emotion that he literally can’t think straight. He can’t calm down enough to understand what I’m trying to tell him.
He needs to calm down.
So, I think back to my days as a therapist and I pull out my #1 favorite calm down tip for kids.
I put my hands on his shoulders so that we’re face to face. I whisper to him “Hey buddy, do you want to play a little game really quick? It will be fun.”
His tear-filled blue eyes look up at me and he nods.
“Okay, it’s super simple. Can you point out 5 things that are blue?”
He hiccups in sorrow but looks around the room. Slowly he walks over to his Duplo bin and says “this is blue….one.” He continues walking through his room pointing out all the blue things.
His cries stop and he starts smiling as he goes.
“Two blue, three blue, four blue, five blue! I got 5 blue things, Mama!”
“Awesome job kiddo. Now can you find 4 yellow things?”
With a huge smile on his face, he does it again.
When he’s done, I ask him to sit in my lap.
I explain to him that I know how important his inventions are and that he can keep them out as long as he’d like to.
Together, we find the perfect place for them to go.
Then I ask him to look around and to put away any Duplo bricks that aren’t being used and starts to clean. That room is picked up in mere minutes.
Seems like magic huh? The trick is knowing how the emotional brain works.
Help Kids Calm Down With A Brain Game
When we get upset, our brains are functioning in it’s more primitive brain or the limbic system. This part of the brain controls our emotions.
This happens in adults and children alike. But, the adult brain is fully developed (if you’re over 25 that is). So, we can control our emotional brain a little better than kids can.
When our brain is functioning in the limbic system, it has a harder time functioning in its upper brain where logic takes place. Literally, we’re so emotional that we can’t think straight.
One quick hack to get people, including kids, to calm down is to get them thinking. This moves brain functioning from the emotional brain to the logical brain.
Whenever you notice that your child is overwhelmed…
Get their attention first by doing something unexpected. Turn on and off the lights, get really excited and jump up and down, whisper so that they have to lean in to hear you.
Ask them to play a quick game and challenge them to…
Name 5 things that are blue
Tell me 3 things you hear right now
What’s 2+2? (ask based on their ability)
What are 3 things you can touch right now
Keep it simple but get them thinking.
It’s frustrating when a child melts down and becomes illogical.
You want your child to listen and to do what’s asked of them. But an upset child will never be able to pick up those Duplos…
So, help your kid calm down so that they can do what’s asked of them.
It’s a win-win for both you and your child.