How to Talk to Kids about Big Feelings & Calming Down Strategies

As a parent or a teacher, you might have experienced moments where children experience overwhelming feelings such as anger, anxiety or agitation leading to fitful moments, tantrums and melt-downs. Today we are talking with Dr. Lynne Kenney about how to help children get calm on the spot and develop better tools and strategies for coping with BIG feelings.

Special Guest: Dr. Lynne Kenney

This podcast provides:

  • What are big feelings and why do they get so intense?
  • How we can help kids to develop self regulation, thought and feeling management skills to function better in the moment.
  • The triggers that make children’s feelings escalate or cause a meltdown.
  • Why and how to help kids develop better self-regulation skills
  • The three systems that are under-utilized for as tools for calming and self regulation.
  • How to “manage the moment” (before, during and after).
  • The 4 S’s of calming (based off of Harvey Karp’s work)
  • How music, movement and balls can help children get and remain calm.
  • Countless tips and scripts to provide parents and educators with on-the-spot calming techniques.
  • Tips & Scripts: What to do and say after the tantrum that makes the real difference.

Important Messages:

  • Research over the past 10 years or so the body of research on the importance of self-regulation in early childhood has grown. We now see self-regulation skills including the ability to attend to the words and action of others, think through our actions and manage our emotions and impulses as foundational skills. These skills underlie our ability to learn, behave and socialize.
  • In Bloom, Musical Thinking and 70 Play Activities, Lynne Kenney and her colleagues provide direct instruction to children about how their brain is built and how it works. They identify The Thinker, Caveman and Boots as integral parts of our brain and they teach children how to use their cognitive skills or executive functions to coach their brains into more adaptive thoughts, words and actions.
  • When we teach children it is the process of how they think and not only the content they learn that makes them better prepared to succeed in school, sports and life, we take the mystery out of thinking and self-regulation empowering eh children to build mastery, and confidence as they become more skillful.
  • Planning previewing, practicing a better end to the story the next time.
  • The vagal, vestibular and auditory systems are underutilized as tools for calming and self-regulation.  While every child is different, often tapping into these systems can calm a child in anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes.
  • Children co-regulate with us. If we are calm, children are more likely to stay calm.
  • Activate the thinker and calm the caveman: If you haven’t planned, practiced and prepared for the escalation, then everyone will get triggered and flip over the mountain.
  • Self-regulation is your ability to manage your energy state in a specific circumstance when things are going well or NOT going well. Self-regulation is energy management!

A sampling of on-the-spot tips provided and explained:

  • Empathy and Action: Your feelings look really BIG, may I hold them for you.
  • Movement: Bounce a ball
  • Cognitive-Motor: Do a switch task, hold this, now may I hold it, now can you hold it in your left hand, now can you pass it to my right hand (Megan McClelland)
  • Vagal: Hum, sing, chant, deep breaths
  • Vestibular: Rock, sway, swing, bounce and rock (the rocking V)
  • Olfaction: Pleasing smells, essential oils
  • The Music Carpet Ride
  • Wrap like a burrito
  • Music such as The Listening Program – fully orchestrated music
  • Anger mountain

Notable Quotables:

  • “When our brain is young or developing, often we have really powerful wants, needs and expectations. And often when we are young…we don’t have the cognitive capacity to recognize that we are having a want, need or expectation. So we think the world is just going to respond to us as we expect. And then when it doesn’t, we actually experience physiologically, a sense of loss or grief.” ~Dr. Lynne
  • “When a child is having a tantrum or a fit or being cognitively inflexible or really difficult, that is not a choice. That is a biological, physiologically response.” ~Dr. Lynne
  • “We all have big feelings. The things is, we want to have the skills to cope with our big feelings in a way that continues to keep us calm and connected with ourselves and with others.” ~ Dr. Lynne
  • When a child doesn’t have the skills yet: “Come over here with me and let’s get quiet together.” ~ Dr. Lynne
  • “When things are not working, start singing!” ~ Dr. Lynne
  • “If you are out of control, sit down and just breathe.” ~ Dr. Lynne
  • “It’s important to get in there and have the conversation with your child to prepare for the next time to put an ending and a closure on what just happened [the tantrum, the escalation] so that they learn from it and then they can move forward and start at a point that is different from where they started this time.” ~Dr. Robyn


Upcoming Podcasts you will LOVE if you loved this topic:

  • Wendy Young: How to talk to kids about anger and over-the-top feelings
  • Lori Lite: How to talk to kids about stress-management
  • Katie Hurley: How to raise a joyful child in a stressed-out world