Calming Someone Else Down

My daughter recently became very upset about her job. I found her stamping around the house in a terrible mood, making justifiable complaints.  She plopped herself down on the couch saying, “I’m just going to call them up and quit. I’ve had enough.”

My initial impulse was to argue with her. The job gives her the flexibility she needs to take prerequisite courses for applying to nursing school. The things that were bothering her didn’t seem that overwhelming to me, and I knew she didn’t have the time to look for another job.

Maternal Instinct

Maternal Instinct

But instead of arguing, I just sat down beside her and put my arms around her. If I said anything at all, it was something low and vague and sympathetic.

Pretty soon, she was up and moving around again, only this time she was working out the details about how to deal with the day’s challenges.

What did I learn?
I already knew that arguing with myself when I’m upset doesn’t help. The first step toward a resilient response is for me to calm myself down.

The experience with my daughter helped me extend that learning to the way I operate with other people. The first step to help someone else be resilient is to help them calm down. When I saw my daughter unhappy, I felt an urge to do something, but I was smart enough to keep my mouth shut. Only afterwards did it occur to me that the maternal instinct that led to gentle touch was just the right way to help her calm down.

We recently published a little book of edited articles from Positive Psychology News Daily called Resilience: How to Navigate Life’s Curves. Most of the chapters are about ways to become more resilient yourself. My chapter explains why it is important to calm down first before trying to argue with yourself.

Perhaps we’ll publish a second edition some day with new articles about how to help others be resilient. I’d love to hear about your experiences.

Image: Maternal instinct courtesy of Tambako the Jaguar



Filed under Relationships, Resilience

6 responses to “Calming Someone Else Down

  1. One key thing to take note of is how simple touch can be soothing. The recent issue of Scientific American Mind had an article talking about how people in pain experience less pain when someone is holding their hand. I’m sure that putting our arms around someone, hugging them etc can have the same positive affect.


  2. Great point, Rodney. In trusting relationships, undemanding touch can be very calming. It certainly is for me.

    Is the article online, or does it need to be purchased? If the former, could you supply a link?


  3. Kathryn,

    I found a reference to the study online at a link I give below.

    The first study is about thinking about someone you have a close relationship with when in pain.

    The second study you find as you read further down describes the study about holding hands to reduce pain.

    Here’s the link:


  4. Just purchased your book on Resilience from Amazon. I’m looking forward to reading it, and sharing it with my daughter (and the rest of my family)!


  5. Thanks, Aneil.

    I’m enjoying your book on the ROCC of trust — it’s so easy to remember that way (Reliability, Openness, Competence, Compassion).

    Trust is Everything: Become the Leader Others will Follow

    I’m glad to have it on my bookshelf.


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