8 Things to Say to Someone Having an Autism Meltdown Instead of ‘Calm Down’

“Calm down” is a phrase that all parents are familiar with. It’s a seemingly direct phrase that’s often used to stop children from acting quarrelsome or unruly. So why is it that a child throwing a tantrum doesn’t seem to understand that phrase the same way as adults do? Unfortunately, telling a young child to “calm down” can be tantamount to saying nothing at all. It doesn’t tell children how to appropriately act. They must learn, and a phrase like “calm down” doesn’t teach so much as it tells — in unspecified language, for that matter.

Until kids learn what exactly “calm down” means, it’s not very useful. However, there are other things you can say that make it clearer what you want a child to do. Here are more specific phrases you can use to get your child to “calm down” while also teaching them how to do so.

8. “Take a Deep Breath”

Photo: Flickr/Chirag Rathod
Because it’s physically impossible to scream and breathe, telling a child to take deep breaths can be useful when trying to end a temper tantrum. Taking deep breaths will slow their breathing and blood pressure, which then helps to clear the mind. Deep breathing, often associated with meditation, is something that’s useful far into adulthood.

7. “Count to 10”

Photo: Flickr/Bethany King
Having a child count can be helpful toward calming them when they’re upset, as it forces them to focus on something else. Counting can distract a child from whatever may be troubling them, and in turn, help them relax.

6. “Tell Me How You Feel”

Photo: Flickr/Francisco Carbajal
Sometimes it’s hard for a child to articulate their feelings, and that leads to frustration — often manifested in crying, screaming, or other difficult behavior. Getting them to talk about what’s bothering them may help them focus and sort through their feelings.

5. “Use an Indoor Voice”

Photo: Pixabay
While a child might not know what “calm down” means, they typically know what using an indoor voice means. Getting them to quiet down a bit can help you work toward finding out what the problem is, and then help your little one work through it.

4. “Let’s Fix the Problem Together”

Photo: Pixabay
Sometimes, a child needs to feel reinforcement — that somebody is on their side and that they’re not battling their problems alone. Working with them to fix the issue can be a quick way of soothing them.

3. “Do You Need a Hug?”

Photo: Pixabay
Physical comfort, like hugs, gives a child a feeling of security. Hugging can physically reduce the harmful effects of stress, releasing bonding hormones and helping improve their overall well-being.

2. “Want to Squeeze My Hand?”

Photo: Pixabay
Sometimes a little one just needs to physically release feelings of frustration. Kids haven’t learned how to do this in constructive ways, so squeezing a hand may help release some pent-up energy.

1. “If You Need to Hit Something, Hit a Pillow”

Photo: Flickr/greg westfall

Likewise, kids react to difficult situations by hitting because that’s the only physical release they know. Help them calm down without hurting another person by getting them to hit a pillow.

By using these direct phrases, you can help your child build coping mechanisms that adults may take for granted. You are also telling your child what to do in specific language that is easier for them to understand and process. Next time, they’ll know a little bit more and find it a little easier to “calm down.”

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