Strategies to Calm Down an Emotionally Disturbed Child

A child stops in the middle of an activity and bursts into tears, flinging toys aside and yelling. This may be the reaction of an emotionally disturbed child. According to the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities, the term “emotionally disturbed” covers everything from anxiety or behavior disorders to psychotic behavior. The important thing to remember, regardless of the diagnosis, is to keep the child and those around him safe.

Model Calm Behavior

No matter how angry the child may become, it is vital that parents keep their cool. Counselor Carol Banks tells parents that when they respond to a child with anger or an order to calm down, it simply heightens the tension of the moment. Instead, Dr. Gail Joseph of the Vanderbilt Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning, points out that by remaining calm, the parent shows the child how to handle uncomfortable situations 2.

Give the Child Space

Don’t attempt to talk the child out of her outburst. Even when they aren’t emotionally charged, children don’t have the same reasoning abilities as adults. Instead, give her verbal space to handle her anger. Give her physical space as well. Move yourself, any other children and anything that might hurt the child away from the outburst. Designate a special spot that provides a safe area for the child to calm down.

Teach the Child Calming Strategies

When the child is calm, help her remain so by teaching her techniques designed to help her control her emotions. Joseph recommends the Turtle Technique. In this technique, the child thinks of a turtle when something happens to disturb her. She imagines pulling herself into her shell, taking several deep breaths and figuring out how to solve the problem. When she learns how to do this during calm times, the parent can remind her of the technique during emotional outbursts. The parent simply says “turtle” to remind the child to stop, breathe and think.

Rewards for Good Behavior

Every time the child responds positively to the parents’ reminder, he gets some sort of reward such as a sticker or a ticket. When he earns several stickers or tickets, he can trade them in for special rewards such as a trip to the park with Mom or a movie night with Dad.