Do you have trouble staying calm when your child is distressed or throws a temper tantrum? Do you lose your cool when students become defiant or have meltdowns? If so, you are not alone.
Many parents and professionals find it difficult to stay calm and in control when a child is upset and dysregulated. While it may be hard, staying calm when a child is upset is a critical strategy for effectively managing behavior challenges. Here are five reasons this strategy is worth practicing:
- A child’s ability to stay calm, or return to a calm state, is dependent on the adult’s ability to remain calm. Children mirror the emotions of trusted adults, and will calm or escalate in response to the parent’s emotions. When the adult gets upset, the child escalates even more. Parents and professionals who remain calm in their voice and actions will help the child return to a calm state more quickly.
- Staying calm provides the child with a helpful model. Many children with developmental and mental health concerns do not realize that it is possible to stay calm when they feel distressed. When adults stay calm it allows the child to see that it is possible to avoid escalating in the face of a difficult situation. It also allows them to match their voice and actions to how the adult is responding.
- Not inserting parent emotions into the mix allows the child to more quickly process the situation and return to a calmer baseline. Children with challenging behaviors are often upset and dysregulated because they are overwhelmed and not processing information well. Inserting strong adult emotions into the mix only causes more confusion and overwhelm, and requires more time for the child to process and return to their baseline.
- When adults stay calm if helps them refrain from saying or doing things they will later regret. Our first inclination of what to say or do often involves things that we may regret after the intensity of the situation is over. By staying calm and composed we can refrain from comments and actions that exacerbate the situation and make us feel badly afterwards.
- Finally, staying calm in the heat of the moment allows us to build and maintain a relationship of trust and safety with challenging children. These children need to know that adults have their backs and will be able to stay composed and in control, regardless of how out of control the child becomes. This builds and strengthens a trusting relationship that helps the child feel secure, cared for, and safe. I would argue that nothing is more important than this for helping a child with developmental or mental health concerns improve their behavior and functioning in general.