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Now's Not the Time to Panic!

Steps for calming down an emotional child on the verge of tantrums or a meltdown.

We have all been there when it feels like everything is going wrong, and everyone involved is started to get frustrated. Voices start to rise and someone's on the verge of tears and we're left wondering if it was all worth the effort.

I have experienced it many times with my own kids. If you've seen one of the recent reels on my instagram account @photography_of_sarahmae you'll see firsthand it starting to happen while on a photography shoot. Lol, even with my own family photos there is usually at least one kid (generally my oldest son) who tests our patience.

But guess what. As a family photographer, these situations do not phase me. A grumpy kid, or an upset kid, can easily be turned around with the right tools. So don't stress Mama, I got you and I am happy to use my skills at your disposal. In fact, I am going to share with you 5 things I do when I feel a situation is going south to help prevent or eliminate meltdowns and tantrums. You can use these

Now, I am going to preface what I'm about to say by acknowledging that every kid is different and not all 5 steps will solve 100% of the situations you will face, but they are at least a good start:

Two brothers hugging during a Dallas Family Photoshoot. Image by Photography of Sarah Mae

1. Ask your child to take some deep breaths with you.

Not only will this help him to decrease the physical reactions to an elevated emotion, but it will also help you to calm yourself down. *You can give your kid a specific number of breaths to take, like: "Let's take 5 deep breaths." or you can encourage them to breathe into their hand.

2. Offer something to drink or eat.

We have all experienced episodes of hanger (hungry anger). On the list of hierarchy needs, this is the among our most basic needs, and often the root cause to elevated emotions. I always try to keep some smarties on hand for photoshoots just for this reason. Fruit snacks, granola bars or raisins are also great foods to have on hand (whether at a photoshoot or out and about) that can be easily used to help solve this problem.

Happy boy showing off his arm muscles during a Dallas Family Photo session. Image by Photography of Sarah Mae

3. Provide a sensory item.

Giving a child something like a sticker, scarf, flower, bubbles, pop-its, or any other item that provides a different sensation then what they are currently experiencing is a good way to help them trigger the problem-solving part of their brain. It can be immediately calming as they have to use their proprioception (a fancy word for awareness of the position and movement of their body) to figure out what it is they are feeling. Even if it the item is something they don't like it can help them to calm down enough for the final steps:

Happy boy showing how strong he is at a Dallas Family Photo Session. Image by Photography of Sarah Mae

4. Acknowledge what they're feeling.

In many instances it's a lack of being able to communicate clearly, or not having their desire acknowledged which will send a child into a state of frustration. So if we take the time to sit, look them in the eyes, or give them some grounding touch (hand on shoulder, holding a hand, bringing them in for a hug), and have them share what they're feeling, then repeat it back to them then we can help them to know that they are being heard and understood.

Brothers holding each other during a Dallas Family Photoshoot. Image by Photography of Sarah Mae.

5. Give them a choice and follow through.

If what a child wants is not something we are able to fulfill at that moment, then I like to give them a choice between two acceptable options. At a photoshoot, this may be 2 actions that I would like to photograph (like jumping up high or running toward mom & dad). By creating an opportunity where they feel in control of their situation you can help them to feel valued and important.

Brothers standing with their dad for a Dallas Family Photoshoot. Image by Photography of Sarah Mae.

Sometimes a different change of pace is needed so I may offer to give them a small break, and that's okay. We can take a break from the photography at hand without ending an entire session. Maybe what that means is instead of doing headshots, we now move on to the 'adventure' part of our session where your family does a fun activity together while I photograph.

When you put your trust in me to be your photographer I don't take that lightly. I prepare in advance with ideas and prompts that will help your family all have a good time and LOOK good in your images.

Moments of grumpiness or a shift in attitude happens, but having a plan for what to do when it does helps everyone to address the need quicker and turn it around. One bad moment does not mean your entire experience will be bad, in fact it can even turn into a benefit as children are much more happy and willing to play around and follow directions afterwards (which translates to ah-maz-ing photos)!

To help you remember the steps above throughout your own day-to-day experiences I put together a little infographic. Download it to your phone or share it on instagram with another parent who could benefit from these steps.

Tips for calming down a child having a tantrum or meltdown. Infographic by Photography of Sarah Mae

Want more info about how to handle a high-emotional situation with your kids? I'd recommend checking out:


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