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Bev Johns

As a parent or educator, you may be making this plea. A child is upset, and you are not sure why, but his behavior tells you there is a problem, and he just can’t cope. He may be yelling, screaming, throwing objects, pacing, etc. There may be a number of reasons children get upset. He may be tired and hungry, there is just too much stimulation, a task he doesn’t want to do, and the list keeps going. Children can become easily frustrated if they don’t have the coping skills to calm themselves down. 

Most adults have learned how to regulate their emotions, but some children struggle. Let’s talk about what a parent or educator can do to help and the coping strategies we need to teach children so they learn to regulate themselves when an adult is not around to calm them.


What’s a parent or educator to do?  Parents and educators can engage in preventive strategies before a full-blown meltdown occurs. Preventive strategies are a must. We can look for triggers that might set the child off, like certain words or certain environments. Once we know those triggers, we can prepare the child for them. Let’s say we know that the child is easily upset when there is a lot of noise, too much light, or they are expected to do a task they don’t want to do. When we know those are likely occurrences, we can give the child headphones, reduce the light, examine the task level we expect the child to do, break the task down into small steps, and more. The more we can prevent, the better. We often have to be detectives about what may be precipitating the behavior. 

Maybe you have done these things, but you missed something that upset the child, and you noticed the child was getting frustrated; in that case, try to redirect the child so he switches gears and focuses his energies on something else.  


When a child is in a meltdown, stay calm and quiet, speak in a soothing voice, and say as little as possible. Stay at least 12 ½-3 feet away (Johns, 2018). Never get too close to the child, and stand at an angle. Do not touch the child. Arguing and pleading will get you nowhere. You can’t allow another child to get hurt, so it is important to remove the other child or children or try to get the child to move with you to another location. 

You might say, 

“Can we take a walk,” 

 “How about we get a drink of water?” 

“What do you need right now?” 

“I want to help you but can’t until you’re calm. “ 

“Is there anyone I can get for you to talk to?”

Anytime you can redirect the child and focus on something else, it is desired. 

Suppose the child is having a meltdown in a public place. In that case, it is important to attempt to get the child-directed to another location so he is not getting embarrassed or getting attention for negative behavior.

Teaching Coping Skills

Children need to be taught skills for emotional regulation. Given the pressures some of our children face, it is critical that we teach them how to manage their emotions in a number of different ways. First and foremost, we need to model how we handle situations when we are upset. Do we take deep breaths, move away quietly, or yell at another person? We have to engage in strategies that show children that we stay calm.

Here are some activities to consider.

  1. Teach deep breathing techniques. There are various breathing techniques, like five-finger breathing, that you can teach young children through college students.
  1. Give children an outlet for their emotions. When upset, can they draw something or write a poem or story? What is something soothing to them? Look for cathartic experiences that the children can have to relieve their stress.
  1. Experience nature by taking a walk when someone is upset. This can be very calming. 
  1. Listen to soothing music.
  1. Establish a quiet area where a child can go when they are upset. That area could have bean bag chairs, rocking chairs, or an indoor swing. The motions of rocking and swinging can be very calming. The area might also have soft music and fidget toys that can calm the child. 

Meltdowns will occur unless we teach children coping strategies designed to assist them in regulating their emotions. This is a life-long skill that will serve children well into adulthood. 

Johns, Beverly. Techniques for Managing Verbally and Physically Aggressive Students. Pro Ed, 2018.

Bev Johns is currently a Learning and Behavior Consultant having worked in the public schools with students with significant behavioral and emotional disabilities as well as students with learning disabilities for well over 30 years.  She was the administrator and founder of an Alternative School and also was responsible for staff development for the Four Rivers Special Education District. She served as a Professional Fellow at MacMurray College until its closing.

Bev is the author or co-author of over 26 non-fiction books, including the textbook on Learning Disabilities, fiction books, and numerous other articles.

She is the current President of the Learning Disabilities Association of Illinois, served on its board, and is a past president of Delta Kappa Gamma, Illinois State Organization. The Council for Exceptional Children awarded Bev the 2000 Outstanding Leadership Award. In 2024, she received the Division for the Arts Lifetime Achievement Award and the President’s Award from LDA of America.