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Self-Calming Sessions for Tantrums and Anxiety

The ability to self-calm is an essential skill for everyone to have. This week we will go into detail on how to help your child learn and practice these skills.


Why is it so hard for my child to calm themselves down?

Any time a child has language, learning, or developmental delay, they may also experience a delay in learning other skills, like the ability to regulate emotions. Children with PWS may be at increased risk for difficulty de-escalating as they often become upset very quickly, and can have much longer periods of escalation. Having a language acquisition delay or speech apraxia means that children may lose out on opportunities for their parents and siblings to teach them to calm down in their early years, and also increases the level of stress and frustration they may experience due to not being able to communicate. All of this just means that your child just needs a little extra help mastering these skills.


What is a self-calming break?

A self-calming break is simply an opportunity to step away from a frustrating or upsetting situation and take a few minutes to allow your level of emotional arousal to decrease before trying to address the issue. You can start teaching this as early as you start seeing tantrums. Self-calming breaks look different for every age, but here are the basic steps:

  1. Move to a calm, neutral, quiet area such as a bedroom or playroom.

  2. Remain in this area, away from other people while experiencing strong emotions safely. It's okay to cry, yell, etc. in this area without getting in trouble as long as the child remains safe.

  3. Choose an activity to do while in the calming space, such as counting, breathing, coloring, or another soothing activity.

  4. Once emotions return to baseline, your child can choose to return to the previous activity once they are ready.

  5. If they get upset again, this process can be repeated as many times as needed


How to Teach This Skill

This is only a very brief version of the teaching procedures for self-calming breaks. And as this strategy needs to be personalized for every child, feel free to reach out if you are trying a version of this, and aren't having success.


Here are the basic steps:


  1. If possible, move your child to a quiet location where you can monitor them, but they can’t see you. If that’s not possible, that’s okay. Keep them where you can see them, but don’t make eye contact. Make sure you choose a location that is neutral - never make the self-calming location the same as any location they are sent to when they get in trouble. We want children to be proud of calming down, so try to avoid any negative associations.

  2. Let them know that there’s nothing you can do to help them when they’re upset, but as soon as they are calm for ______ amount of time, you can help. Choose a time limit based on when you think they are actually calm as well as their age. This may range from 30 seconds to 5 minutes. If you find that your child is still upset after this amount of time, increase it and try again.

  3. Monitor until they stop crying/screaming etc. for the chosen amount of time, and then set them a timer for the determined time period. Some children do better receiving the timer right, away, and some children do better only receiving the timer when they stop crying or screaming. You can try it both ways to see what works best for you.

  4. Once they are calm, offer to problem solve, or present another opportunity to engage in the alternative response (see teaching appropriate alternatives). You can validate your child's feelings (e.g. I can see it's really hard for you when things don't go your way), but avoid re-hashing the behavior problem itself.

  5. If they get upset again- no big deal, just run the process all over again.

This skill takes time to learn and will take many tries before your child is able to calm down quickly and consistently, however this strategy will work if you stick to it. The key is to make a BIG DEAL when they actually do calm down, no matter how long the tantrum persisted before they managed to become calm. Kids with PWS have big, strong emotions, and getting control of those emotions is difficult and exhausting. Make sure your child knows how proud you are for every time they succeed, and every tiny step they take towards mastering this skill. As your child gets older they will be able to let you know when they need to step away for a calming break and to complete the process completely independently. The more they practice, the faster they will calm down.


If you've tried this with your child and had success, or if you've run into some speed bumps and need a little extra help, please reach out on our contact page and let us know, or email kbedard@deltabehaviorservices.com.