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Trying to calm an upset child can feel like trying to wrangle a tiger while doing a headstand. At least it was that for me.

When one of my little girls gets upset, she gets UPSET. I mean, it’s really intense. Somehow, all of the angst of a tortured poet have been crammed into a tiny 5-year old body.

She sobs. She screams. The veins in her neck bulge like she’s trying to lift a car. And her whole body shakes as she tries to contain the intensity of all that she feels.

Everyone knows that you can’t reason with someone when they are completely out of their mind (though we try anyways). So my natural, motherly response was to try and help her calm down.

So what would I do? Two things:

  1. Instruct her to “calm down” (which is about as effective as telling her to start speaking Greek)
  2. Try and get her to breathe deeply (to which she would promptly respond by hyperventilating)

Yeah, they didn’t work.

But you knew that.

However, I knew that if I could get her her to breathe deeply then she could start to calm and reason.

Filling her lungs with air would send oxygen to her brain making it function better so she could start to think more clearly.

Basically, it would take her out of her fight-or-flight mode and help her to start reasoning.

4 ways to calm an upset child #parenting

4 ways to calm an upset child #parenting

Deep breathing is miraculous.

It’s literally how I get through days of raising 4 small kids while balancing work (and the countless other stresses moms face) without completely losing my mind.

Seriously, I owe my sanity to deep breathing (and funny online videos).

So I just knew that if I could figure out how to teach her to take deep cleansing breaths, we could have less raging and more “Kumbaya” in our house.

But I was at a complete loss. Trying to get her to breathe deeply by modeling and coaching her only made her more upset until she would basically hyperventilate.

I needed a kid-specific approach to teaching deep breathing. 

Which is why I was beyond thrilled when I learned these 4 strategies in a Conscious Discipline parenting class (seriously, check out this book). It was like the heavens opened and angels were singing. They were just what I was looking for.

And they made all the difference.

No more hyperventilating. Fewer and shorter meltdowns. More control. It’s been awesome. I’ve taught all my older kids.

But here’s why I especially love these strategies to calm an upset child:

These give kids the tools to self-regulate and handle difficult situations.

So whether they are at a friend’s house or at school, they have the tools they need to calm themselves when they are feeling ALL the feelings.

While I describe them all below, it’s easier to see how they’re done. So I wrangled my older 3 girls and we made a video (below). Mind you, they were soooo over the idea of making a video by the time I actually got them into one place.

And clearly, they dress themselves (one less battle to deal with).


This is my favorite.

I actually made one of the college classes I teach do this. It was nearing final week and everyone was stressed out of their minds. After I had the class do balloon breathing (with a few eye-rolls) one student exclaimed “I actually do feel a lot better!”.

What you do:

Link fingers above your head and take a few repeated breaths in to fill your lungs, while raising your arms (filling the balloon). Then drop your hands and breathe out mimicking a deflating balloon.


This is another fun one for kids. It mimics a faucet of running water.

What you do: With straight arms in front of you, and hands clenched in a fist, you tighten up everything. Then you “turn the faucet” and release all the tension as you slowly float your arms down (like water coming down) and do a long shhhhhh breath out.


This one can be a tad tricky, but being tricky it engages the brain and helps it to calm down. Incidentally, it’s also useful for calming your mind when you are lying awake at night with your thoughts racing.

What you do: With arms twisted, crossed, and palms together, you wrap your arms in to a pretzel. You then cross your legs. Sounds complicated right? Better watch the video 🙂

4) BE A S.T.A.R.

Okay, I’m actually pretty sure this one is actually my favorite. Because I use it all the time. When my 2 year old chucks the plate of food I just made her at my head (because she can’t eat ice cream for dinner), this is what keeps me from losing it. Before I respond, I first…

  • Stop
  • Take a deep breath
  • And
  • Relax

And then I can deal with the situation without turning in The Hulk.

While it works great for moms, it’s also a helpful strategy for kids! You can remind your kids to be a STAR.


Remember, big emotions don’t have to spiral into an entire household of frustration. Instead of trying to simply calm an upset child, we can give them the tools to calm themselves down when they’re upset.

Our kids are capable of handling difficult things. And these strategies are the perfect ways to do just that. So that even when we aren’t with them, they can handle the big emotions that come with being a kid.

You’ve got this, mama!