Have you ever noticed that when you tell someone – whether it’s a child or an adult – to “calm down” it just fills them up with more rage? Well, there’s a good reason for it. That’s because it has the opposite effect. There’s new research that says saying “calm down” to an emotionally distraught child will only bring them more shame while also adding more fuel to the fire.
When someone is experiencing a lot of emotion, they cannot remain purely rational. During emotionally triggering events, the emotional centers of the brain dominate. So until the emotion subsides, it’s virtually impossible to access reasoning centers of the brain to have a logical conversation.
Dr. Amanda Tadrous, a clinical psychologist, agrees, according to Romper. She says that whenever you tell someone to “calm down,” it does nothing more than invalidate that person’s emotions. They might also feel as though you are dismissing their feelings or the reason why they feel worked up in the first place. With a child, the last thing you want to do is make them feel as though their feelings don’t count.
“Such statements invalidate ones emotions – that is, they trivialize and ignore/dismiss our internal experiences,’ Dr. Tadrous told Metro.co.uk in an interview. ‘They emphasize controlling (calm down) rather than effectively managing emotions. Such statements lead us to feel that we are not being listened to or taken seriously. Those who have experienced frequent invalidation of their emotions (e.g. in childhood) may react particularly strongly as it reminds them of those unpleasant experiences.”
With that being said, there are a few simple things you can do rather than to tell your toddler (or your spouse for that matter) to “calm down.” First and foremost, show that you are listing. Tell them that you are here for them. Empathize. Let your child know that you are sharing his or her pain. Being able to express empathy for another person is a soft skill that is best modeled by parents.
Also, offer to help. There might not be much that you can do, but that doesn’t mean you can offer your assistance, or at least comfort. Last but not least, encouraging a different breathing technique. Believe it or not, many breathing techniques have proven to dissipate stress and anger and restore calm to our bodies.
Keep in mind though that if you tell someone to “chill out” or “relax” you are not offering them any help, either. Instead, try to diffuse the situation by taking a different approach that won’t sound like you don’t care about your loved ones’ feelings.