Dave’s secret trick for calming a hysterical child

Tonight’s bedtime was about as bad as it gets. My parents are visiting from out of town, so we had unusual disruptions from the routine, but more importantly, A-, our 8yo, has terrible allergies this time of year, so she was sneezy, sniffly and generally cranky and miserable this evening.
Usually we try to get the kids into bed, lights off, by 7.30, the latest, but tonight we didn’t get to bed until about 8.20 or so. Ugh. Our 5yo, G-, fell asleep fairly quickly, but A- couldn’t stop sniffling, so after a little while, around 9pm, Linda just got up with her to help her have a shower and give her some allergy medicine (not that we’ve had much luck with allergy medicines, Western or alternative).
That would have been okay except Linda had to grab some shampoo from the kids bathroom and somehow made just enough noise to wake G- up from his sleep, at which point he promptly collapsed into inconsolable crying and complaining about miscellaneous injustices.


At 9.30pm at night, with a 5yo that’s just woken up from a sleep, it’s not easy to reason with them and convince them to just lay down and go back to sleep. As usual, it was also The Mom Show so there wasn’t much I could do with either child (fortunately the baby had long since fallen asleep!) because all I heard was “I (gasp) want (gasp) mama” or similar.
But we haven’t yet figured out how to clone mom, so I had to get involved with one of the two, so I sat down with G- in his room and said “stop crying and I’ll tell you a funny story.”
Which, of course, didn’t work at all. He wasn’t able to reason, he was an exhausted 5yo boy. 🙁
Instead, I pulled out my secret weapon: I opened up one of his favorite books (A Thomas the Tank Engine compendium) and began reading one of the stories.
But he doesn’t realize that when I’m reading to get him to calm down, I read more quietly than normal, and more slowly than normal (I’m usually quite an animated reader).
Within two sentences he’d stopped crying so he could hear the story, and within two pages his breathing was slowed down to normal. By the end of the fifteen page story he was calm, collected, and able to have a whispered discussion about what he needed before he could just go to bed.
We read one more story, and before the story, I had him climb into his bed and leaned against the side so he could lay down and peek through the railing to see the pictures. Before I read it, we agreed that after the story it was time to go to sleep.
And it was. And he did.
If you’re in a situation with a little one who just can’t get back into their body (as we characterize it in our household) then try my trick. It’s remarkably successful.

5 comments on “Dave’s secret trick for calming a hysterical child

  1. Perfect! When my daughter was younger she had a lot of trouble falling asleep by herself. My record was going through 8 books in one night before she fell asleep.
    But I learned that for night-time stories, that a hushed, almost monotone reading voice helps calm, soothe, and push into slumber any child–or parent for that matter!

  2. When my oldest daughter was a newborn, she had severe colic and it was near impossible to calm her down at times. My husband, who is a bartender, came up with a neat litte trick. He would lay her on his chest and rattle off drink recipes over and over until she calmed. I guess the vibration of his voice in his chest did something to soothe her.

  3. That’s actually a customer service trick to get an irrate customer to calm down. you keep lowering the volume of your voice and they gradually do too.

  4. OK, I have tried this numerous times and my 5yo throws the books at the wall or myself or his brother or anything else that is in his range of sight and arms throw. Being a single mother, so there is no alternative parent, I get to try to calm a very unhappy 5yo and a very whinny upset older child. Seriously I am not sure that the tantrums that this child produces are of human kind, more like novel proportions. So my question is to you, as this venture happens most regularly – what now?
    PS… he was a nurser in bed with me until 18 months and only since the age of 3.5 has he been in a “big boy bed” most night I just bring him back into my bed for lack of will and need of sleep.
    But again, his “wakeful tantrums” can last hours, and the path of his wrath can be large. (yes, at times I am a little scared of my 5yo, just sayin’)
    So -advice?

  5. Thank you for this tip… we had mega melt downs tonight, scary to watch your 5 year old have (i like how you put it) an out of body experience. After hours of screaming, shouting and not getting anywhere I googled “how do I calm down a hysterical child?” and this came up and I went and grabbed his fave book and started reading (even though the last thing I felt like doing was doing any thing he liked, felt like throwing the book at him lol) but I needed peace and I needed sanity and sure enough after the 2nd page he came and sat down and chilled the hell out and climbed into bed and zonked…. so thank you!!!

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