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Be Calm: Stop, Breathe.

When my dad yelled "Calm down!" he didn't mean "Find a quiet place within yourself' or “Let’s just stop and breathe together.” "Calm down!" was his code for "Stop!" or "Do what I'm saying." However, by the time he shouted “Calm down!” his own stress was like a force-field fueling my brother, sister, and me to continue in whatever mischief or state of not listening we were enjoying.

My dad grew up before the word stress was used to describe a psychological state of tension, worry, or just pure overwhelm. He didn’t realize that he would actually have to quiet himself mentally and physically if he wanted to really help us calm down, as his aggravated state kept us from hearing him.

It can be a stretch even today to wholeheartedly believe that soothing ourselves internally will help have quieting effect on an upset child. However, I still remember years ago seeing an episode of the TV show The Supernanny, where she watched a five-year-old and his mother fight ferociously. The boy was so over-stimulated and upset, he was kicking and hitting his mother.

Supernanny Jo asked the mother to hold her son and breathe deeply with him. It worked, and the mother and son attuned to each other with each intake and long expiration of breath. They started speaking reasonably. Today, the understanding that an adult’s emotional state affects a child’s is widely understood—and so is the important role of breathing.

“Let’s stop and breathe!” I hear adults gently urging children to pause and take few breaths as casually as they might remind a child to put on a jacket in the wind.

There’s music about calming and breathing. Our school song Quiet as a Cloud uses a slow, almost hushed melody and beautiful images from nature to bring children into a state of inner harmony. I remember seeing a Room 5 video of children holding up their hands and singing “Peaceful and Calm” as they traced up each finger and breathed in and down the other side to breathe out.

Learning to calm ourselves through breathing takes repetition best done while a child is already feeling calm. Then later, when upset occurs, we can practice the slow breaths they have already learned.

We have shifted away from asserting “calm down” as a correction and framing it rather as a healthy choice that we can learn to create together.


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