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A Simple Method for Calming Chaotic Emotions

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There are times when we all have to face other people’s chaotic emotions, whether it’s our child throwing an angry tantrum, a coworker losing her cool, or a spouse storming around the house. It happens. When my kids were young, I found out how to calm kids down using a trick that worked wonders.

And eight years later, it still works—not just with my kids, but my husband, friends, and even strangers. The best part is that this method not only calms the other person down, but it also builds a connection and strengthens your relationship. (Yes! You can grow closer through conflict!) OK, here’s what it is.

Think “L.E.A.N.”

When you want to run away from the chaotic display of emotion in front of you, “lean” instead. If you can master this technique, you’ll be on your way to calmer days while modeling great communication skills to your children.

L=Level

The first step seems small but it is effective: get down on their literal level. For a child, this might mean stooping down to his or her height. For an adult, it might mean positioning yourself to be face-to-face with this person or sitting down next to him or her. But also, take a moment to get on that person’s level by putting yourself in his or her shoes. How would you feel if you were him or her?

E=Eye Contact

Look into their eyes to get their focus. Often when people are upset, their minds are swirling and so are their bodies. They might pace, slam things around, rub their faces, or even throw themselves on the floor. This is an indication of how much is going on inside them.

With my preschool-aged son, I would get down on my knees, gently take his shoulders, and say, “Look at Mommy.” When he looked at me, he then could hear what I had to say. With an adult, sometimes you can touch an arm or shoulder, and other times you have to ask the person to sit down with you (back to step 1). Then you can get the person’s eyes to focus on you. Once you have his or her eyes, you have a better chance of cutting through the chaos—and listening will be easier, too.

A & N=Ask the Need

Ask this question: “What do you need?” With this simple question, a person shifts from everything-is-wrong mode to problem-solving mode, which is what people actually need in this situation. During a conflict, if you ask people what they need, you communicate a win-win attitude rather than win-lose.

What if they tell you what they need but you can’t provide it? Or what if it’s not reasonable? That’s completely OK. Just by acknowledging the need, you have helped them. Adults often know how to solve their own problems. In fact, the solution is usually more effective if they come up with it themselves. They just need assistance in making that shift.

Getting Out of Hijack Mode

Learning how to calm kids down requires knowing how they get worked up in the first place. We do our more reasonable, logical thinking in the frontal lobe of the brain. But when there is a strong emotion, like fear or anger, your brain experiences “amygdala hijack.” Basically, your emotion takes over and your frontal lobe is hijacked. You can’t think logically and you go into “fight or flight” mode. This can look (and feel) very chaotic. By using the L.E.A.N. method, you can help a person slow down long enough to switch back into the frontal lobe of the brain.

You can even use this method on yourself when you feel chaotic. Sit down, breathe slowly, and ask yourself: “What do I need right now?”

Do you have a method for how to calm kids down? What about adults?

ASK YOUR CHILD...

What helps you to calm down when you feel upset?

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