This article is part of a 6 part series on calming older children tantrums. You can read from the beginning here.
Distraction and Redirection
Remember that fun parenting hack when your kiddo was 2 or 3 where you quickly distracted them from a disappointment or upset by giving them something fun to play with? By 4 years old, that trick wasn’t really working anymore…
But, did you know that distraction can still be a great tool to use to help your older child calm down? It is actually a coping strategy that will be helpful in so many different situations. For example, if your child starts getting worked up in the doctor’s office over having to get a shot, distracting them from their anxiety will help keep them calm and allow them to navigate the stressful situation better.
Using Distraction as a Calm Down Tool
I also highly recommend distraction as a tool to calm your child down enough to be able to move on to other coping strategies such as using a calm down kit, calm down cards, or working through fears, anger, or any other big emotion.
There are lots of fun tricks, activities, and games that can really help kids redirect their energy towards something more positive. I have found that some kids respond better to certain distractions than others. So, if you try one idea and it doesn’t work, try another!
15 Ideas to Distract a Child in the Middle of a Tantrum
Here are 15 tried and true ways to distract your older child so that they can calm down, move out of a tantrum or meltdown, and get to a place where they are coping better.
- Use trivia about animals, sports, etc. (lots of good lists on google!)
- Play the guessing game by drawing a letter or picture on their back (great for sensory overload.)
- Do a 5 senses scavenger hunt (find instructions on the printable calm down cards available for free in our parenting resource library. Sign up for access here.)
- Ask a random “this or that” type question (i.e. do you like to eat with spoons or forks?)
- Mention a ridiculous consequence. (i.e. if you don’t sit down quietly, you won’t get to eat salad tonight.)
- Ask them if they need a hug
- Start playing “eye spy”
- Tell a knock-knock joke
- Do an ABC Scavenger Hunt (check out the Calm Down Deck for Instructions)
- Pull up a funny picture or video and be very interested in it
- State that it is time to play Simon Says and they are Simon
- Draw a wave pattern on their palm. Breathe in while drawing the up portion, breathe out while drawing the down portion. (No need to tell them to breathe with you.)
- Start a game of tag by lightly tapping them, saying, “tag, you’re it” and then jumping away
- Start a colors scavenger hunt (can you find something that is red and blue?)
- Ask them if they can say the alphabet backward
Why Do Distraction Techniques Work?
Many of these distraction techniques employ the element of surprise followed by the need for the kiddo to use a different part of their brain which can be a great way to interrupt a meltdown. The reason this works is that when kids are melting down due to big emotions, their brains are effectively going “offline”. If you can reset their brain/system through this surprise/thinking method, they are generally able to get to a place where they are calmer and more able to cope.
A good note to remember on this though is that switching your distraction techniques up frequently will keep that element of surprise.
It is also helpful to spend some time coming up with lists of trivia, jokes, etc. so that you are able to quickly pull those out rather than trying to think on the fly in the middle of a stressful situation.
Make sure to download your FREE CHEAT SHEET that gives practical solutions for all 5 techniques for stopping tantrums. Click here to get your copy today!
Ready for the next topic on stopping older kid tantrums? Click here to read about using playfulness to stop a tantrum. (This is seriously my secret weapon – it works every time!!!)