How can I get calm kids?
Whether I’m tucking my son into bed, or focusing the energy of 20 kids at a birthday party, I’m often working on getting kids calm! Without their attention, we really can’t have any fun, and I can’t do my job as a parent and teacher. That said, I am loath to use the traditional “Listen up!” ways of grabbing focus.
So, in my theater classroom at Child’s Play NY and as a mom, I use a simple chant. These words can have endless variety, they get kids calm and focused, without sacrificing any playfulness.
Watch this Video for a Quick Tip on Getting Calm Kids
You don’t have to feel like a “bad guy” coming in and saying, “Ok, let’s focus up!!” or “Stop running around!”. When you use this tip, you’ll meet kids where they are energetically, and then transform that energy into something else. In this way, you’ll be more likely to be able to get a calm kid and they can feel focused and ready for whatever they need to do next (which may, in fact, not be jumping up and down on the bed!).
When to use this tip to get a calm kid
- Birthday party
- In your classroom
- On car trips
- During times of transition (leaving the house, arriving at school)
How to use it to get a calm kid
Here’s the template, keep in mind, there are endless ways to vary this up.
You: When I say LOUD, you say quiet. LOUD
Literally, any opposite you can think of can be then used. Here are some of my favorites:
Keep the chant going with lots of opposites in a row. Encourage behavior that you want to see more of: if your goal is a more calm kid, then make sure you ultimately give them the quieter and more relaxing words to say (“slow”, “quiet”). The above suggestions rhyme – but you can also have fun with any opposite.
Use your body as well – so kids have a gesture that matches the word. In this way too you can encourage them to go slower, get quieter, and ultimately get calmer.
Why this game can make crazy kids into calm kids
With this simple chant, you are doing a lot of things:
- You are meeting kids where they are energetically which makes them feel validated.
- From there you are channeling their wiggles into something that you can playfully manage.
- The chant let’s them still use their bodies to express themselves and move, but this time in a more controlled way.
- You can grab their attention since they have to focus on what you say, nevertheless you aren’t commanding them to listen.
- Essential executive functioning skills are at work here through play: impulse control, focus and attention and working memory.
Creative Add-ons for Young Storytellers:
While you can have fun with opposites, the game doesn’t have to stop there. You can use this chant to tell help your child work on storytelling.
In Child’s Play NY classes, we use the names of the roles and an iconic phrase to help familiarize the students with the language of the characters or even song lyrics that they sing. It can be a great way to practice working memory. As you build on one story, you can cut out the “When I say” words and just say the character’s name and see if they remember what the phrase and gesture is.
Make sure you watch the video to see a demo of how to do this with the characters from “Jack and the Beanstalk”.
If You Want to Support Reading Skills….
Make a list of opposites with your child before you start, or simply jump in and play. I love the Eeboo Opposites Puzzle as a springboard for possibilities too.
Kids can lead this game too! For example, a great challenge for a kindergarten student, is to be the “When I Say” person.
Teacher Tip for Calmer Classrooms
As one of the leadership roles in your classroom, you could make a “When I Say” leader. This child would be responsible (on your cue) for focusing the students’ energy when you are transitioning or when the crazy has taken over! Let them choose the opposites to say on any given day.
Please let me know what creative opposites you came up with in your home or classroom. Have fun harnessing that energy and getting the most out of those playful, joyous kids!