Calm Down!

Do you remember the last time you lost your cool? Maybe you had a hard day. Maybe you felt overwhelmed and afraid. Maybe you were just exhausted and couldn’t deal with one more setback or obstacle. When you started venting to a friend or partner, what would have happened if they said “Just calm down. It’s no big deal”? 

Whenever I use this analogy in my workshops, almost all the parents chuckle. It’s probably happened before, and they know the answer all too well. As infuriating as the phrase “calm down” is to adults, we use it all the time with children. We minimize their crisis and then tell them to calm down. 

“It’s just a toy! Stop crying! Calm down!”

“I don’t understand why you’re upset. I told you that was going to happen! Calm down!”

“You need to get over it!” 

As adults, we can forgot that we have decades more of experience and brain development that helps us gain perspective and regulate our emotions. Our children do not. Drinking from the Paw Patrol cup IS a BIG deal. Not getting an extra ride on the swing IS a crisis in their world. We know from trauma research that two people can experience the same event - one person perceives it as a trauma, the other does not. Just because our perceptions are different does not invalidate our emotions. 

So if “calm down” is minimizing, infuriating and ineffective to use for all people, what should we say instead? We should choose phrases that validate emotions, convey empathy, and build connection. 

These phrases can be used when your child is “on the edge” of a meltdown or when they’re coming out of a meltdown. If your child is actively melting down, it’s best to stay quiet, let them work through the emotion, and be ready to reconnect when they’re done. 

So here’s the list of 10 (actually 13 + bonus strategy):

“I’m listening.”

“I hear you.”

“I hear you and want to help.”

“I can help you.”

“I see you.”

“I noticed you’re having a hard time.”

“You wanted a turn now and had to wait.”

“You can do it!”

“That is really hard.”

“You are having a hard time and I want to help.”

“I’m right here.”

“You are safe.”

“You tried. We can try together.”


Depending on the situation, validate your child’s frustration. Just like we want an empathetic ear and validation when we’re frustrated and overwhelmed, so do our children. 

Use a “You” statement: 

“You really don’t like getting in the car.” 

“You want a turn with the car and your brother said no.”

“You can’t reach your toy and you really want it.”

This helps strengthen your connection with your child, validates your child’s emotions, calms their fight or flight response, AND models the appropriate way to communicate our feelings. We must model the behavior we want our children to use. 

Mama Mantras

Motherhood is crazy. But you already knew that. Last week was a crazy, crazy week for me. I was getting the family back on schedule after a 3 hour time change and “vacation schedule” for 10 days. Plus I had back-to-back calls and daily home visits. With each call and each visit I repeated the same quote: “Say YES to your child’s emotion while you hold the boundary on the behavior.” We can still empathize with our child’s strong emotion without “giving in”. But empathizing with a screaming child take A LOT of self-discipline. How do we not either freak-out and yell or completely shutdown when our kids are losing their minds? Self-talk. 

For my family action plans, I even listed out possible mantras for parents to use so they can stay calm while the child works through their big emotions. So here are some of my favorite mantras that I use for myself:

“He is safe. I am safe.”

“This is not an emergency.”

“This too shall pass.”

“He is still learning.”

“He is having a hard time. Not giving me a hard time.”

“He needs my calm.”

“Be the calm.”

“He needs my help, not my anger.” 

“Breathe."

In the great words of Rebecca Eanes, “Instead of asking: How do I deal with tantrums? or How do I deal with aggression? or “How do I deal with this sleep problem? Ask, “How do I help this little person whom I love? That’s the best starting point for knowing how to help your unique child.”

These mantras are meant to calm your mind. Keep you in the upstairs brain, so your child may slip into the “fight or flight” mode, but there’s at least one fully functioning brain in the room. They are also meant to shift your perspective. If we perceive our children as small people who need to learn, then we are more likely to teach than to punish. 

Teaching will strengthen our relationship, corrects the behavior now, and helps our child learn how to handle the situation in the future. Punishment damages our relationship and teaches our child how to avoid punishment. 

So pick your mantra. They may change or evolve over time, as parenthood always does. Use it to help you through the crazy. Because parenthood is awesome. And crazy.