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By: Tammy Sassoon, M.s.ed

Dear Tammy,

I would like to help my children calm down when they get upset, but I find myself getting all upset with them, and then being no help to anyone at all. Do you have any advice?


Looking to Be Calm

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Dear Looking to Be Calm,

Your first instinct to try and help your children calm down when they are upset is coming from a place of love and concern for your children. However, the act of teaching children to calm themselves is one of the greatest gifts you can give them. The question here is how do we teach our children to calm themselves?

Let us first examine why some people (children included) have more heightened negative emotions than others. People who experience great levels of anxiety, sad thoughts, obsessive thoughts, etc. have learned to treat thoughts as absolute truths. In reality, however, our thoughts are actually subjective. In order to enjoy maximum “wellbeing” we must recognize that millions of thoughts are constantly passing through us throughout the day, and we DO NOT have to engage with every thought.

We have no control over the thoughts that come in, but we can decide whether we will take them seriously or not. For example, sometimes when my children are fighting, I have thoughts going through my mind such as, “What type of adults will they grow up to be? I can’t stand this! Can’t they just get along?” I used to take all those thoughts very seriously, and consequently raise my voice, thinking that I must take serious action before they really do grow up to be this way.

What I came to realize however, is that NONE of those thoughts in that example were helpful. I get to ask myself if any given thought is helpful or unhelpful. If it is helpful, I choose to continue thinking about it. If not, I DON’T fight it. Rather, I wait for it to settle. I like to use a misty water metaphor. When you pour a cup of water from the sink into a clear cup, you see a cloudiness. You can’t get the cloudiness out, but you CAN wait for the cloudiness to settle. The water is clear by nature, it’s just clouded by mist. We too, are clear, wise, and happy by nature, and are just clouded by our thoughts. If we wait for our thoughts to settle, we can enjoy a calm existence much more often.

It is also important for us to be aware that all human beings have a “low mood” sometimes.

When our kids are in a low mood, we have two choices: to resent their behaviors or to recognize that they are acting out their insecurities. Whenever any human being acts in a hurtful way, they are acting out their insecurities. If we are able to truly see that, we will be able to be more compassionate, and less resentful. What follows suit is calmer children.

So next time your child gets upset, realize that he or she is simply in a low mood. Show the child that you are not alarmed or concerned because it happens to everyone. Then don’t take your own thoughts too seriously about how disastrous the situation is, because that is not a helpful thought at all. Once you wait for your own thoughts to settle, you will be able to make wise choices about how to compassionately support your child. That can come in many different forms, depending on the situation: Giving space, letting the child know you are there for him or her if they need anything, offering a distraction, etc.)

Good luck, and if you can do this, you are on to a whole new calm sense of wellbeing.