Some of our viewers have asked for some self-calming techniques for their preschoolers. I think we can help you with that.

Vicki: Young children really don't have emotional self-regulation. It is pretty common for them to be out of control, and so, learning self-soothing techniques is going to take some time. Just expect that and it won't be so frustrating to you when they just start throwing a big fit or having a meltdown.

Paul: Vicki, we have been doing positive parenting groups for some time now. And as you have joined our groups and shared with us what's going on in your own parenting world, I've seen this very frequently where parents of very young children, especially if they are first-time parents just aren't aware of what some of the developmental expectations are. I would encourage you to not freak out too much. When you have a preschool child who is not very good at emotional regulation, that's not surprising.

Vicki: Right.

Paul: Okay, so, don't freak out too much. Now, there is still some things that you can do. And in fact, the research shows that children who develop secure attachments with their primary caregivers naturally learn self-soothing techniques. When a child becomes emotionally tipped-over, (not if, when), they receive attention from you that helps to soothe them and that teaches them what they can start to do to soothe themselves.

Some of the research that I'm referring to has been summarized by Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk. I got to go to a training for 2 days with him a couple of years ago. Vicki and I have been reading together the book, “The Body Keeps The Score,” by Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk. I think this is really insightful that he pointed out the secure attachment that these kids have has everything to do with their positive emotional development as they get older. This builds off of exactly what we just said that having a responsive caregiver not only models for them but helps them to get in sync with the way that their body responds to trauma or when things don’t go their way. So, holding them in rocking them for example, this is a rhythmic movement that is connected with physical proximity to another person. Sometimes we'll use a blanket or a binky which is part of an infant's way to soothe itself is to suck. It's natural.

Vicki: Yeah, right from the very start, they've got that. Give them ways to use those natural soothing techniques like movement, rhythm, sucking is a good way to start.

Paul: And music. You mentioned this earlier as we were talking about this particular video. Music can have a very soothing effect. Studies are showing that this is true sometimes in a prenatal environment. Like when the mom is pregnant and she's listening to certain kinds of music. That can have an effect on the soothing or the calming of the fetus even before the child is born. So, you can introduce things like music into the environment. Now, be careful with this because different kinds of music will have different effects. Do we have to spell that out in detail? Don't be putting on your heavy metal hard rock stuff for your preschooler. You want to have something that is more rhythmic and more soothing to help them learn to do that emotional regulation.

Vicki: I think it's really important to realize that we get to teach. We are talking about self-soothing which would imply that they are doing it themselves, but sometimes we have to teach them how to do that. One of the things that we can do is teaching a child how to manipulate their environment. Maybe to go to a different place where they can be calm or to take their own time out. This isn't a punishment timeout, but removing themselves from the situation so they can have a quieter environment. You know, we mentioned earlier pacifiers. Obviously, we don't want kids staying on a pacifier too long. We want them to learn self-soothing. But I've seen a lot of parents use it where, “Okay, if you really need that calming moment, we are going to use that in a very specific controlled place. Maybe on your bed where you are resting for a minute while you are calming down.” Teach them to manipulate their environment so that they can be calmed.

Paul: This is true even for young infants. To have a little timeout to calm.

Vicki: We start with kind of exchanges with babies in communication exchanges right from the very start. And if you'll watch a baby, you are cooing at them, you are doing the back and forth rocking, and smiling. After a minute, your baby turns away. This doesn't mean anything except that they need just a little bit of break from stimulation. Give them a minute and they'll usually come back to you. And that is the same thing for our children. They just need a break from stimulation sometimes. One time our granddaughter said, “I'm just really upset. I need to go calm down for a minute.” She went off to the bedroom and calmed herself down for a while. I think she was maybe 3 or 4?

Paul: I think she was 3. So, even young children can be taught to do this. It has to be modeled, it has to be taught. They are not going to come by it naturally. Now, some of the things they will come by naturally. That is why I wanted to mention the research that has been done on early attachments and having a secure responsive caregiver. They will naturally learn to do certain things and the other things like you said, Vicki, we get to teach them and model for them. Breathing is another one. Incidentally, breathing can either activate or calm your body. When you see an athlete for example getting ready for an event they are breathing heavy and they are activating themselves. When you breathe quickly, it tends to activate certain parts of your body. The parasympathetic nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system are activated separately. What we found is that the exhale breathing out, especially when it's slow and controlled, tends to have a calming effect on the body. This is something you can teach to kids. You might for example do some breathing practice with your kids where you hold up a finger and say, “My finger is a candle, and we are going to blow it out very slowly. Ready? Let's blow.” Exhale slowly. As you practice this with your kids, they are going to feel a natural calming effect. And you can help them to see, “Look, when we do that kind of breathing, it calms us down.” You don't want to try to teach this in the heat of the moment. You want to practice it at other times. But then you can come back to it when it's needed and use that as a tool for calming.

Vicki: We have talked about this in videos on Live On Purpose TV on YouTube, teaching our children the words that they need to discuss emotions and feelings, especially when they are really big emotions and feelings for them. We want to teach that to them and then encourage them to use their words even while they are upset. You are not going to teach them about the emotions at that moment when they are tipped over. If you have taught before say, “I can see you are feeling frustrated. Tell me with your words what you are feeling, what you are thinking.”

Paul: Right. When you have practiced this, that can then become a trigger for switching the energy of that interaction. You can say, “I can see you are upset. Use your words to tell me about that.” If you have practiced it, they will be able to have the words and the vocabulary to actually bring into that. These are the things that can be taught. And some of it's going to come very naturally. Remember… Let's go back to where we started, developmentally speaking with preschoolers.

Vicki: Right. Young children.

Paul: They don't have a lot of good emotional regulation. They get flooded easily by feelings and emotions and they'll seem to be out of control or explosive. That's pretty normal. We will be patient with them as parents. Start to model appropriate emotional expression. And then use some of these tools that we've shared with you. I think you are going to see some improvement.

And I mentioned when we were in the video that we have these Positive Parenting groups that have been phenomenal. We have had such great results with the people who have joined us in those positive parenting groups. If you want to get involved with one of those, get on a call with one of our coaches. We can talk to you about the steps and the costs and anything that's involved in getting you to that next step in your positive parenting. It is a no-obligation call with one of our coaches,