Kids can get upset for a variety of reasons and it's not always easy to calm them down. Young kids throw tantrums just about anywhere, often in the most inconvenient places like restaurants and retail stores. Older kids also experience feelings of anxiety, anger, and fear, and these emotions can lead to an emotional explosion.
Whether you're a parent, family member, or a friend of the family, it's important to know how to help them regain emotional balance. If you're looking for ideas, here are some things you can try.
Consider long-term therapy
If your child struggles to regulate their emotions, they'll benefit from learning strategies to diffuse the situation and/or keep it from bubbling up in the first place. Even just learning to take a deep breath and accept their emotions is a huge step forward. Every child is different, but certain therapies have a good success rate.
For kids on the autism spectrum, consider Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy. If you don't have time to take your child to see a therapist, you can get in-home therapy instead. Often, just being in a familiar environment makes it easier for a child to benefit.
Whether your child is on the autism spectrum or not, therapy can help them learn how to cope with overwhelming emotions they can't seem to control on their own.
Kids are going to get upset and you can't always predict what will set them off. Sometimes it's just exhaustion, and other times their expressions are deferred from things that happened earlier in the day. Patience will allow you to endure the situation while you figure out what to do.
Don't react emotionally
Whatever you do, don't get involved in the drama when your child is upset. It's not like having a heated argument with a friend where you both express your thoughts passionately back-and-forth.
When your child is upset - with you or something/someone else - you need to stay in a position of control. If you engage in the emotion, you lose the ability to redirect your child to a better emotional state. This also trains your child not to respect your authority, which is especially true if you start yelling.
Instead of getting emotional and joining your child in their upset, stay emotionally neutral and wait for the right opportunity to intervene with a more effective solution.
Give your child choices
If you know certain situations are triggering for your child, you can mitigate their reaction by giving them choices. For example, do you always drag your child to the grocery store, only to watch them melt down in the middle of the produce section when you won't buy them some random snack? They may be on edge because they don't want to be there. Give them a choice (when possible). Tell them they can go with you or stay home with their other parent/sibling.
Provide a warning when transitioning from activities
Some kids don't do well abruptly moving from one task to another with no notice. If you're getting a negative reaction from your child when you ask them to stop reading and come to the table to eat lunch, it might not be resistance to your authority. It's possible they just can't handle stopping one task and starting another so quickly. It can actually shock a child's nervous system to change tasks when they're comfortably settled into one activity.
To prevent this surprise, give them a heads up that a transition is coming. For example, if they're playing video games and dinner will be ready soon, tell them they have 15 minutes to play and then it's time for dinner. Then, give them another warning when they have five minutes left. This should ease the transition and keep them calm.
Look for the real triggers
When a kid throws a tantrum or has an outburst, the cause isn't always apparent. Sometimes, the source is something unseen or misunderstood. For example, if a child has a bad day at school and buries themselves in an art project when they get home as an escape, telling them to stop working on that project will likely result in an outburst of some kind. In this case, you're not just asking them to stop; you're taking away their method of coping. Except, you don't know that's what's happening.
Try to find out what's triggering your child at the root. Sometimes it's visible on the surface, but not always.
Give your kids space
There's no way to avoid all emotional outbursts, tantrums, and meltdowns. All you can do is experiment with different strategies to find out what works to calm your child down when they're triggered.