Are You Using This Essential ‘Calm Down’ Tool?

Dr. Laura Markham shares five simple steps to help keep you from doing and saying things you’ll be sorry about later

stop drop breathe

You’re reading this article, so I know you try hard to be the best parent you can be. The times you mess up? I’m betting those are times when you’re stressed, distracted, overloaded, at the end of your rope. Then your child—predictably—acts like a child! Before you know it, you’re saying something you would never say if you were calm, in a tone that you would never use if you were feeling centered and emotionally generous. Those are the times that we do things we’re sorry about later.

I can’t promise that you won’t get stressed or overloaded—modern life makes that all too likely. And your child will definitely act childish—that’s in her job description. But there IS a tool for those tough moments, that can keep you from doing and saying things that you’ll be sorry about later.

This tool is your PAUSE Button. Once you pause, you can make the choice to shift gears. The more you practice, the better you get at it.

Here’s how. Sometime this week, you will feel annoyance, irritation, resentment, anger, or even rage in reaction to your child’s behavior. You will feel an urgent need to set your child straight. Unless someone is in physical danger, ignore that urge—that’s a sign that you’re in “fight” mode. Your intervention will be more successful if you calm down first.

So as soon as you notice that you’re getting irritated, turn away from your child and shift into Step 1. (You might want to post these five steps on your refrigerator so you have them handy.)

Step 1: Use your Pause Button: Stop, Drop, and Breathe

Stop. Just stop. Stop everything you’re doing. Close your mouth.

Drop your agenda. Just for now, let it go. Step away from the fight.

Breathe. Take three deep breaths to calm yourself, breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. If you need more breaths, take ten. Becoming conscious of your breath stops your slide down the slippery slope toward losing it and lets you choose how to respond.

Step 2: Choose Love

The hardest part of calming down is choosing to calm down. When we’re in the grip of anger, we want to lash out, not calm down. Make a conscious choice to let the anger go.

Step 3: Change Your Mind

Interrupt the rush of “emergency” neurotransmitters by consciously using a mental antidote—an image or thought (some people call this a mantra)—that will make you feel more calm and emotionally generous. You might try “He’s acting like a child because he IS a child” or “He’s showing me he needs my help” or “It’s not an emergency.” (Not the mantra type? You don’t have to start “ohmming” in traffic. Just find a thought to interrupt that anxiety loop by reassuring your worried mind.) 

Step 4: Calm Your Body

Notice the sensations in your body and breathe into the tight places. Shift those sensations by meeting them with compassion—try hugging yourself. Move your body to release the contraction—shake out your hands, splash water on your face.

Step 5: Once you’re calm

Go back to your child. Initiate a Do-Over. Set whatever limit is necessary or talk about what happened. “I’m sorry I raised my voice. I was pretty frustrated. Here’s what I meant to say. I’m worried we’ll be late if we don’t leave in five minutes. I need you to put your shoes on now. I’ll help you. Let’s work together.”

That’s it. Five simple steps that keep you from doing and saying things that you’ll be sorry about later. Simple, but not easy, especially in the beginning. But every time you use your Pause button and Choose Love, you’re rewiring your brain, so it gets easier. Before you know it, you won’t remember the last time you raised your voice. Gradually, your child will learn from your role-modeling.

Simple. Less drama. More love.


Published with permission from Aha! Parenting by Dr. Laura Markham. 

Dr. Laura Markham trained as a Clinical Psychologist, earning her PhD from Columbia University.  But she’s also a mom, so she translates proven science into the practical solutions you need for the family life you want.

Dr. Laura is the author of the books Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting and Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings: How to Stop the Fighting and Raise Friends for Life. For more information, visit