Calming down: why young children need help
Children start developing many new emotions from around two years. They include strong feelings like frustration, anger, embarrassment, guilt and shame.
Young children often don’t have words to talk about ‘big’ feelings like these. Or they might find them so uncomfortable that they just can’t cope. Instead, they cry, scream or have a tantrum.
When this happens, children need your understanding, support and help to calm down and cope with their strong feelings.
Learning to calm down after strong emotions is part of your child’s ability to self-regulate.
Time-in: what it is and how it helps with calming down
Time-in is when you stay close to your child and offer comfort and reassurance while your child is struggling with their emotions. It also involves letting your child know that you understand how they’re feeling.
Supporting your child like this can help your child calm down from ‘big’ emotions and learn how to express these emotions better next time.
How to do time-in and help young children calm down
Here’s how to do time-in when your young child is having trouble with strong emotions:
- Squat down next to your child. Gently put an arm around your child, or rest your hand on your child’s shoulder.
- Take your child somewhere quiet, if you can. This might be a room away from other people, a tree or a bench in the park, or a quiet corner of the shopping mall.
- Tell your child you understand. Use feeling words – for example, ‘I know you really want cake, and you’re angry because today’s not a cake day’.
- Hug your child or hold your child on your lap if they want you to.
- Firmly but gently stop your child from hurting other people or breaking things. For example, put toys out of reach, or hold your child’s hands to stop your child hitting.
After children have calmed down
Time-in is for helping your child calm down. It isn’t a way to help your child learn better behaviour. But if you need to talk about behaviour, this will be much easier if your child has calmed down.
For example, when your child is calm, you could say something like, ‘Did you throw the puzzle because you were angry when it wouldn’t fit? What else could you have done?’
A positive and constructive approach is the best way to guide your child’s behaviour.
With your help, your child will learn to understand and manage their emotions as they develop.