From road rage to Black Friday brawls, even adults occasionally struggle with regulating their emotions. After all, the world can be a stressful, confusing and overwhelming place. Now imagine being a toddler faced with the same challenges, except your brain lacks the ability to help you calm these unpleasant feelings.
As humans transition from infancy to adulthood, we go through many milestones, including the development of self-awareness and the ability to self-regulate emotions. Caregivers play a central role in the process, and not just through external regulation. The next time your toddler is cruising toward a massive meltdown, try out one of these six strategies designed to help him gain self-control, express his feelings, and develop social competence.
- Turn Things Upside Down
A change in physical state can transform your emotional outlook: in other words, a literal change in perspective works wonders. Inversions — in which the head is below the heart — can kick-start a soothing response within the nervous system, increasing blood circulation and boosting the production of endorphins — AKA the brain’s “feel-good” chemicals.
Simply put: invert the body, and the mind will follow.
As long as this feels comfortable to your toddler, go on and break out that Twister board or do some side-by-side downward facing dog with your toddler. While the process of inverting can feel awkward or unfamiliar at first, they will eventually get the hang of it and begin reaping the positive benefits.
- Breathe Like the Ancients
Yogis have known for generations what science confirms today: mindful breathing exercises known as Nadi Shodhan Pranayama, AKA alternate nostril breathing, can help calm your heart rate, quell anxiety, and improve overall health.
The concept is simple: find a comfortable spot, relax your body, and alternate breathing in one from one nostril and exhaling from the other. (Okay, so there’s a bit more to it than that: go here for a complete explanation.)
Practicing this ancient technique family-style may seem silly, but the results have serious potential to instill valuable self-calming skills in your toddler while reinforcing them in yourself. This is also a fantastic skill to incorporate into any bedtime ritual.
- Make ‘Em Laugh
You don’t need a reason to laugh… or to derive the many benefits of laughter. We’ve all heard the expression, “Laughter is the best medicine,” but did you know that science backs it up? Research from the University of Western Ontario has determined that laughter relaxes muscles, improves respiration, enhances circulation, and increases endorphin production. These effects can last for up to 45 minutes — in other words, long enough for your toddler to move past the challenge at hand and gain a new perspective.
It may be that your toddler is not in the mood to laugh, but that’s no problem! Laughter begets more laughter and even fake laughter can be used to diffuse an escalating situation and regain control. So while your child’s grocery store tantrum may feel anything but funny, finding the humor in it can help turn things around.
- Drink Up
We often talk about the importance of staying hydrated, but here’s one more reason to add to the list: a well-hydrated child is a calmer child. Research indicates that even mild dehydration can increase tension, anxiety and fatigue. Cognitive performance, including memory function, can also be affected.
Want to keep your child’s mental health in tip-top shape? Hydration is one key. To head off dehydration, don’t wait until your toddler is thirsty to offer a drink. Instead, serve up a healthy beverage with every meal and snack along with at regular intervals throughout the day.
- Teach Them to Use the Pause Button
We all know how easy it is to get carried away in the moment — it happens to the best of us. Teach your kids the importance of pausing for three to five seconds with some deep breaths before they react. You might even design a pause button with construction paper and pull it out in times of need.
Pressing pause when tensions escalate allows both kids and adults to process thoughts and emotions without immediately reacting to them. The result? More thoughtful, measured responses. While this skill takes practice, the rewards are manifold.
- Be the Change
Adults are far from immune to tantrums, outbursts, and other knee-jerk reactions. One way to ensure that your kids learn the ability to self-regulate? By practicing these techniques yourself and learning to keep your temper in check, you will teach your children to do the same. After all, research shows that children learn about socially acceptable behavior — as well as the types of behavior that lead to negative reactions — by way of example.
Let’s face it: while immensely fulfilling, raising toddlers can be a challenge like no other. These six strategies are designed to help you rise to the task. So go on: hang upside down while breathing through one nostril and laughing for no reason. We dare you not to feel more relaxed, calm and in control when you’re through. Even better? These feelings are contagious — so your kids will also reap the mood-boosting benefits, along with lifelong tools for managing their emotions.
Learn research-based anxiety relief tips for your kids at www.gozen.com