10 Ways to Calm an upset child

It’s difficult to deal with children when they are upset not just for parents but for everyone and we want to calm them down as soon as possible. We all have one trick or the other to stop them from crying. However it’s very important to make sure the methods that we deploy actually help them feel good and attend to their needs, in stead of just suppressing the upset feeling temporarily, for it to come back again.

Sometimes the mornings start with kids feeling grumpy, and sometimes crankiness gets build up by midday, and yet other times it creeps into your evenings after having a great day. Things don’t fall in place in spite of all the detailed planning. All the kids in the house are cranky, which makes you lose it, and it picks up a domino effect.

Here are some easy solutions with examples of what works for us; to stop the domino effect and pull some serious brakes on Murphy’s law!

1. Make sure they are not hungry.

Hunger and Tiredness are the two most common culprits of unknown crankiness in kids. If it’s mornings, tiredness might not be the case for them feeling upset unless your child didn’t sleep well through the night. Getting your child’s tummy full works wonders. Sounds basic? But this fact that they might be hungry and hence cranky gets overlooked very often especially since they always seem to demand different things when hungry and never mention food. And the growth spurt always seems to creep up before it gone.

2. Take them out somewhere, even if kids are in pajamas or don’t have their hair brushed

Seriously, this is my hands down go-to option. I can’t tell you how many times have I taken both my kids out to the library in PJ’s, just because we all have had enough of each other early in the morning. In all honesty, I’ve friends who come to the library for the same reason. We are blessed to have a good public library at 5 mins of a drive. We go there for kids programs twice every week, so my kids are familiar with this place and they have a happy feeling connected to the library.

I’ve a friend who takes her child to a park below her apartment, and I’ve heard people take kids to McDonald’s to play in the kids area. Simply get a drink and let them play there for a while, or take them to the children’s play area in a mall, options are endless. If you are not feeling up to any of this; then take them out for a ride in the car. Just getting some space from each other, and sitting calmly in one place for 10-15 mins on a car ride seems to reset emotions a lot of times.

3. Involve them in what you are doing

I can’t tell you how special kids feel when you involve them in what you are doing. They know they are little and you are more capable than them in some ways, and when they are invited to do something with you, they feel powerful and forget whatever is bothering them. Secondly, kids feel heard, when you involve them in what you are doing, it could be cooking, cleaning, yard work, anything.

4. If the weather’s good, take them outdoors

For some reason, nature always and always seems to calm kids down. It doesn’t have to be a park, could be your backyard, or your apartment balcony. Just being in fresh air and light can do wonders for our brains. So many of us take a walk when we need a break, this is just the same for kids. Often times playing with too many toys, or digital screens overstimulate kids, and stepping outside helps their mind relax. Kids are explorers, they don’t need a lot of toys for outdoors, they’ll find leaves, sticks, weed, grass to pretend play, watch birds, squirrels, airplanes, clouds. All these simple things seem to unwind them.
Even my baby calms down when she goes outside. In fact, there is not much I know to do to calm her down other than nursing, but stepping out of the house on the backyard or porch always seems to work to calm both my kids.

5. Have some small new toys on hand

With two under two, I often get into a situation where my toddler gets very desperate for my attention when the baby has to sleep. The older one’s cranky because he needs me, which wakes up the baby so she needs me, and it’s an endless vicious cycle. Having a new toy or an old forgotten toy on hand really helps. That keeps Mr. 2 busy for a good while, till the baby gets into a deep sleep. I remember a friend mention, she would hide some of her son’s toys and give them to him when he’s upset about something, and they would be like new and fun for him.
Let me give you a heads up; this doesn’t always work, but it does work for a short period of time. Kids are very smart, they know what they want and won’t take a toy instead of their mother, but if it’s for a short while, I do resort to this option.

6. Call an old friend of yours

Yes, this works magic. When I have a bad start of the day, and I sense things are going to topple by the middle of the day; I call a friend to catch up. Often times the first one does not pick up, but I always have a bunch of people I need to catch up with, since I’m famous for not keeping in touch. Connection helps us relax, get happy and gain patience. It’s true for everyone not just kids. I don’t mean call a friend and tell them how bad your day’s been, but call them and catch up with each other genuinely. You’ll be so pleasantly surprised of how that simple old connection will reset your mind!

7. Do a sensory activity

There is a reason why they are called a sensory play. They tickle your senses and in turn, take your mind off whatever is bothering you and helps you relax. Basically, you’ve to give kids something new to play with which is not a toy but something we use every day. It’s mostly stuff from kitchen flour with glue, beans to explore, water beads, flowers, fruits, dried leaves, honestly anything that feels different to touch or smell. That’s very exciting and invigorating to their mind.

Our go-to sensory activity is water fun; it is a great and easy sensory play. We pour water around in a few cups, play in the water table, play with DIY edible paint in the bathtub or simply an untimely bath with some toys. Water seems to relax my son, so we do this often.

I realize some kids don’t like water this much, and some parents don’t like cleanups after water play, or half the year the weather’s not permissive of water play. So I’ve a long list of dry sensory play activities for kids on this Pinterest board with a great collection of screen free activities to do with kids, its full of quick and easy to setup sensory play activities. When I see kids are having a rough beginning of the day, we often end up doing something new and easy with an inspiration from Pinterest.

8. Become a detective; decipher what calms your child

Keep your eyes peeled for what calms yours child. Could be play with colors, music, cars, blocks, Magnatiles, books, food, alone time by the window, really it could be anything. Every child will have a different thing that calms them, you as a parent need to decipher this and see if that activity could be done on that particular time when your child is upset.

For us it’s a glass of milk; very often when my son’s had enough and is very cranky for a long time, a sippy cup full of milk helps him calm down. I am not sure if it’s the relief from hunger or the fact that he has to lay down to finish his milk, which takes him a good 2-3 mins and he relaxes in this time. What ever is the reason, all I know is he’s usually calm after a cup of milk, so it’s something I do after a complete meltdown or after a long bout of being upset.

9. You change the mood for them

I don’t do this often, since I respect my child’s feelings, and I know he’s upset because he’s genuinely not feeling good. However, I had this interesting observation the other day. My son was having a rough day, but during a moment of calm, I was being playful with my baby and it lit up my son’s face, he started dancing and jumping around the house and we all started playing together. We all had lots of fun tickling, giggling, rolling on the floor and it seemed like he totally forgot about whatever had upset his mind. He didn’t return to being upset after the play, but instead chose to play with his blocks after.

10. Come down to their level and talk to them

I hear you saying, my child’s never in a mood to listen when he/she’s upset. That’s true. However, coming down to their level physically and asking them what is that they want to do, or if they would like a hug works a lot more times then it doesn’t. This usually ends up in a hug or a complete meltdown, and both of those are the beginning of the end of their cranky mood.

Somedays we have to deploy plenty of these tips, and yet we end up being a crazy household all together. So, be rest assured you we are all in the same boat you are not alone. The good thing about being upset and still going on with the day, is that kids learn to function under stress, and that is a very precious life attribute to have.

Feeling upset is an emotion we all need to experience to appreciate the good in life, including kids. Adults go through the periods of feeling low quietly. Kids make themselves heard quite loudly, which is why we want to change their mood as quickly as possible, but it’s equally important for them to go through the discomfort.

So, relax and let them go through the tough emotions.

Let’s talk in the comments about how do you deal with kids when they are upset, I would love to know more tips.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. sethu | 6th Oct 17

    I can so much relate to all these options….. I tried almost all of them 🙂 I have a very active 3 YO and he can be very emotional ( 2/3 times in a day) He calms down in bath tub, taking a long shower is the best way to calm him down. whenever he gets upset I hug him and try to be with him, I think keeping myself calm is the best/ difficult thing I can do in those situations. It was nice to read your options… Happy parenting !!!!

    • Kay | 10th Oct 17

      Hello Sethu,
      I am so glad this resonates with you. It’s true we all come to the same conclusions! It’s true keeping yourself calm when they are feeling rough, is the best and the most difficult thing you can do, but it always helps to share your calm during a turmoil situation!
      ~ Best, Kay.

  2. Shayne | 27th Oct 17

    Hi Kay,

    Thanks for sharing this list! I don’t have kids yet, but I babysit often and am always looking for new strategies to help calm an upset child. I’ll definitely have to try out a few of these strategies, especially doing a sensory activity!

    • Kay | 28th Oct 17

      Hey Shayne,

      I’m glad you like them. Yeah, Sensory activity is a great place to start, since it’s something new and fun and usually keep little ones engaged for long periods of time! I’d say it’s definitely worth going through all the planning and set-up!

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