Parent Resource

20 Ways to “Reset” When the Kids Are Having a Hard Day

by Lisa Pennington,

A few days ago (maybe more than a few, I lose track of time easily) I got a great question from Andrea.  She asked, “Sometimes we get in a funk.  We can run a stretch of days with everyone on edge and “bickery”.  It often starts with illness or a stretch of cold rainy days (no outside play), but somehow these sweet children become rather unpleasant to spend the days with….Do you have a secret “reset” button, or advice on how to get “back on track”??”

I love this question.  You are SO right Andrea.  There are often days or even just an hour when everyone seems to be a little grouchy.

These are some thing I do when that happens:


1. Deep breath. I call out, “Deep breath!” Then everyone stands up and we all take long, slow breaths while we raise our hands over our heads.  Then we let the air out slowly while we lower our arms.  The whole movement is very slow and purposeful.  We might do that a few times, then go back to our regular day.

2. Jumping jacks.  We all stop what we are doing and do 20 jumping jacks.  This is especially good when they seem to have extra energy and need to use it.  It’s hilarious to see the littler ones trying to coordinate their arms and legs.

3. The color game. If it’s not raining I take a stack of construction paper (each piece a different color), some tape and some tacks (I used to leave these in a drawer by the front door) and take it all outside.  I tack or tape a whole piece of the paper to trees, the car, a bush, the front door….making sure they are spread out but I can see all of the colors from my chair (that I have set in the middle of it all).  Then I sit in the chair and gather all of the kids around me and I say, “Ready……RED!”  Then they have to find the red paper and run to it.  Once they are all there I call out another color and we keep doing it until they are exhausted.  Sometimes I modify the game by calling a kid’s name with a color.  You can let the older ones go faster with this version.

4. Play stations in the kitchen.  Fill the sink half full with water & utensils, fill a 9×13 pan with rice, another with straws, a plastic bowl with beans.  Set it all on the kitchen counter (table, whatever) and set the timer for 5 minutes.  They play at each station for only 5 minutes then they switch.  You stay in the kitchen with them the whole time giving attention to their made up games.  In 20 minutes it’s over.

5. Emergency toys. I keep toys tucked high up in a closet for just such an occasion.  Pull them out of the closet and set the timer for 30 minutes.  Once the timer goes off….the toys get put away for at least a month.  That’s the only way they will work the next time.

6. Play a game.  We’ll all sit and play something unbelievably dull, like Go Fish or a simple board game.  Sometimes all they need is for you to stop and give them your full attention for 15 minutes.

7. Music.  Music is a-MAZing for this kind of problem.  If I don’t have the time to play games or make pans of rice in the kitchen, I will turn on some fun kid music and we’ll all dance around to one song.  Mommy dances too (and Daddy if he’s home).  One song can reset everyone’s attitude.

8. Tear paper.  Sometimes we all just need to do something wild and completely unexpected.  So I will give each child 3 pieces of construction paper and we’ll stand in a circle and when I say, “GO!” we all start tearing up our paper and throwing it on the floor.  We jump around and scream and laugh and giggle and fall down and throw the paper around for about 5 minutes.  Then I say, “STOP!” and we have to clean it up as quickly and silly as we can.

9. Lie on the grass.  Often, when it’s not too wet, cold, hot….we go outside and lie on the grass.  Everyone takes turns telling what they see in the clouds or, if there’s no cloud, I will ask them a question and we take turns answering.  Sometimes we will do it on the trampoline instead of the grass.

10. Drink something green.  I put green food coloring in either lemonade or water.  I gather everyone in the kitchen and give everyone a glass of “Green Goop” and we all drink it at the same time.  We drink it as fast as we can and be silly.  If it’s been a really rough day, burping is a must.

11. Crawling.  I have everyone put shoes on their hands and crawl around until I say stop.  Then they have to freeze like a statue until I say go.  Sometimes I’ll call out pieces of furniture for them to crawl to.  We’ll do this for about 15 minutes then stop and put the shoes away.

12. Baths.  These are not get-clean baths.  These are play-baths.  15 minutes in the tub with a few toys and no washing hair.  Just time to stop everything and play in the water.

13.  Read a book.  If everyone is tired I will grab a book and read it aloud in an unusual way…with an accent, like a monster, while acting it out, hanging upside down off of the couch….something that makes it different.

14. Hold hands.  Sometimes everyone just needs Mom for a few minutes.  So we’ll hold hands and walk around, outside if possible but inside works too.  I’ll say something like, “Tell me what you liked about today,” and we’ll walk and talk and touch for a few minutes.

15. Quizzes.  I’ll line them up in front of me and zing them with questions.  They have to answer really quickly and if they take too long I say, “Zing!” and they have to fall down and get back up again.  (If you’re not feeling creative, just think of a favorite book or movie and ask them questions about that, “What’s the name of the character that_____,” “Who had the last line in the movie?” “What color was ____ wearing when she was running?”, etc.)  This is especially good for nursing moms that need to sit for a few minutes and the older kids are needing attention.

16. Color their name. I write their name in really big, puffy letters and they get 3 Crayons to color it in.  No sharing, no trading…just 3 colors…GO!

17. Have a snack.  You sit with them and talk for just a few minutes.  Don’t set them down and walk off.  Just sit there for a few minutes and toast your glasses together and say, “To a better day!” and eat a little something.

18. The Whisper Game.  I say, “Let’s plat the Whisper Game!” and set the timer for 5-10 minutes.  That whole time you sit and talk but everyone has to whisper.  Do what you can to make it silly and animated, like lean to their ears or tiptoe around the room while you’re whispering.

19. Animals.  I sit on the couch and gather them around, with an arm length between them.  Then I call out animals and they have to act like that animal until I change the animal.  I might switch it up by calling out a specific child’s name with an animal.

20. Slow down.  This one is good to do after any of the other activities.  We all move and talk in slow motion.  I will walk around and they follow me and do what I do….all in slow motion.  Then I give them turns being the leader.  This is fun, but it takes the energy back down and you’re ready to go back to normal.

As you can see, the main focus of these activities is to stop what you are doing, stop rushing, stop being frustrated and spend a few minutes together doing something completely different.  It is essential that Mom or Dad participate.  That’s what really pushes the reset button.