When Your Child Gets More Upset When You Try to Calm Them Down

 

What This Is Like from a Parent’s Perspective


You expect your child to get upset. You just don’t expect that when you try to help them, they get even more upset.

…When you try to explain why they can’t have something, they cry even harder.

…When you tell them why aggression is unacceptable, they become even more aggressive.

You want them to calm down, to feel better… but nothing you’ve tried has helped. 

 

What This Is Like From a Child’s Perspective

 

When they are upset, children are filled with huge feelings. Their little bodies are overwhelmed with these feelings, and they’re not thinking clearly.

…They don’t want you to explain to them WHY they can’t have something.

…They don’t want you to tell them how wrong their behavior is.

They just want to feel understood and they want to feel safe. They don’t want to feel alone with their big feelings.

 

 

How It Usually Goes When

Your Child Gets More Upset When You Try to Calm Them Down

 

Scenario: Nathan and his dad are playing a game. Nathan loses for the second time in a row and starts screaming at his dad.

 

Nathan: I hate this game! I’m never playing again!

Dad: Nathan! You’re going lose sometimes…

Nathan: No I don’t. I don’t have to play it. And I’m definitely never playing with YOU again!

Dad: Nathan, calm down…

Nathan: NO!

Dad: I can tell you’re upset. Just take some deep breaths…

Nathan: No way! I hate deep breaths. I’m NOT doing them!

Dad: Nathan, that is NOT how we behave in this family!

Nathan: This is how I behave! This family is stupid anyway…

Dad and Nathan continue to engage in a power struggle.

 

How It Could Go Instead When

Your Child Gets More Upset When You Try to Calm Them Down

 

Scenario: Nathan and his dad are playing a game. Nathan loses for the second time in a row and starts screaming at his dad.

 

Nathan: I hate this game! I’m never playing again!

Dad: Nathan! You’re going lose sometimes…

Nathan: No I don’t. I don’t have to play it. And I’m definitely never playing with YOU again!

Dad: Nathan, calm down…

Nathan: NO!

Dad (doesn’t say anything).

Nathan: It’s so dumb. I don’t like it!

Dad (doesn’t say anything).

CALM

Nathan’s dad does not like Nathan’s behavior. However, he knows that focusing on Nathan’s behavior will only make the behavior last longer.

Instead, he focuses on staying calm and demonstrating that he can handle his son’s — and his own — emotions. 

 

Nathan: And I’m NOT playing with you anymore, Dad.

Dad: It’s hard to lose when you want to win.

Nathan: No it’s not! I don’t care!

Dad (doesn’t say anything).

Nathan continues yelling. His dad waits for a few minutes, not saying anything. Eventually he notices that Nathan starts to slow down.

Dad: I don’t really love losing either.

 

CONNECT

Instead of insisting that Nathan change his behavior, he shows Nathan that he understands him. This helps him feel safer and less alone.

He knows that he needs to respect Nathan’s point of view if he wants to help Nathan get to a more rational, respectful state of mind.

 

Nathan (gets quiet for a moment).

Dad: It’s frustrating.

Nathan: I’m NOT frustrated.

Dad: Fair enough.

Nathan: It’s just dumb.

Dad (doesn’t say anything).

Nathan (starts to speak more quietly): I wish I’d at least gotten to the next part of the game.

Dad. I hear you. (Pauses). It’s OK to be disappointed. I wish you wouldn’t yell at ME though.

Nathan (doesn’t say anything).

Dad: Next time you feel that mad, can you try what you did last time that worked? Pushing really hard against the wall?

Nathan: I forgot.

Dad: I get that. How do you think you can remember next time?

 

CORRECT

While Nathan’s dad respects how he is feeling, he still insists that Nathan do something different next time. Then he helps Nathan recall the tools that will help him act differently in the future.

He focuses on being firm while teaching Nathan tools to be successful

 

Nathan: I’m not sure.

Dad: What if we practice it a few times before we play this game again?

Nathan: I guess.

Dad: Does that mean you’re willing to play this game with me again?

Nathan (smiling slightly): I guess.

 

 

This Won’t Work Unless…

 

Though Nathan’s dad used Calm, Connect, Correct, proactive deposits will make all of the difference in how this situation plays out in the moment.

If you want to give your child tools to be successful (so they can calm down even when they’re overwhelmed with emotion), remember: 

 

Depositing into CALM

You will not be able to stay calm if

a.) your own biological or emotional “needs accounts” are low (if you feel out of control or disrespected)

b.) you have the expectation that your children will have the same priorities that you do

When you make sure your own needs are met and you set realistic expectations PROACTIVELY, you are more likely to be able to stay calm. 

 

Depositing into CONNECT

You will be able to connect if

a.) you respect that ALL behavior has a reason and

b.) you understand those reasons (in a case like this, that when a child is flooded with emotion, it’s better to be quiet and let them calm down)

When you become comfortable with the reasons behind behavior PROACTIVELY, you will be able to connect more effectively. 

 

Depositing into CORRECT

You will be able to correct behavior by offering a tool if

a.) You have demonstrated consistently in the past that you mean what you say when you set a boundary like “You need to try to do something different next time.”

b.) You have made enough deposits into your kids’ emotional needs that setting a boundary doesn’t put them immediately into Yuck.

When you demonstrate that you mean what you say and when you make deposits into your kids’ emotional needs PROACTIVELY, you  will be able to correct behavior more effectively.