Expert Parenting Advice
Practical parenting tips and advice from experts around the world

Jennifer Kolari: How use the “C.A.L.M. Technique” to turn your language and words into “medicine” that calms your child and helps them cooperate

This interview is part of How To Get Kids To Listen: Leading International Parenting Experts Reveal Their Best Secrets For Getting Kids To Cooperate, an ebook containing a collection of interviews I did with parenting experts from around the world.

I asked each expert one simple question: What is your best strategy for getting kids to listen and cooperate? and then listened as they shared their best parenting tips and advice.

How To Get Kids To Listen is available for free download here

In this interview with Jennifer Kolari, she shares the 4 steps you need to remember to calm your child and help them cooperate. I have found this technique extremely powerful, because it is simple to remember, easy to use, and not only helps me with my interactions with my kids, but also with other adults.

Tags: Jennifer Kolari

Also in this interview:

About Jennifer Kolari

One of the US’s leading parenting experts, Jennifer Kolari is a highly sought-after international speaker and the founder of Connected Parenting.

A child and family therapist with a busy practice based in Toronto and San Diego, Kolari is also the author of Connected Parenting: How To Raise A Great Kid (Penguin Group USA and Penguin Canada, 2009) and You’re Ruining My Life! (But Not Really) Surviving the Teenage Years with Connected Parenting (Penguin Canada, 2011).

Kolari is a frequent guest on many national morning shows and her advice can be found in many Canadian and U.S. magazines.

For more information, please visit her website: or call 416 781 4700

Jennifer offers a free one-hour parenting webinar on how to be a Connected Parent here.

How to use the “C.A.L.M. Technique” to turn your language and words into “medicine” to calm your child

Jennifer explains her C.A.L.M technique for connecting with your child and biochemically calming them down with your words.

Sue Meintjes: What is your favorite technique or strategy that is working really well for you or your clients to get kids to listen and to cooperate?

Jennifer Kolari: I think the number one thing would be our pillar technique at Connected Parenting, which is the C.A.L.M. Technique. This is the ability to mirror, to deeply attune to what your child is feeling, and to work very hard to understand what they’re saying and what they’re feeling, instead of trying to convince them that you’re right.

So, it’s basically using language and words as medicine. And then when you’re able to do that, what happens is oxytocin and opiates and natural endorphins flood the brain, biochemically calming your child down, and moving them towards healthy compliance.

Sue Meintjes: Can you tell me more about using language and words as medicine?

Jennifer Kolari: So, I break it down, because it sounds easy, but this is actually a really tricky thing to do. And by the way, this not only works with children, it works on husbands and wives and mother-in-laws and colleagues and bosses. It works on everyone.

So, there’s four things that you’re going to do when you’re using this technique properly.

I call it the C.A.L.M. Technique.

Why Connecting with your child is critical to understanding them and their behavior

Connecting is the first step of the C.A.L.M technique, and it is the way that you show to your child that you care about what they are going through and that you want to understand them.

Jennifer Kolari: The first thing is the letter C, and this is where you Connect.

You’re really using your body, your facial expressions, everything in you to demonstrate to that little person that you really want to understand what they’re feeling. “What is their message? What are they trying to tell you?”

Behavior is never the problem. Behavior is a symptom of the problem. When you’re really trying to understand what the behavior’s telling you, or what their words are telling you, what’s underneath it, you’re going to get somewhere.

You’re going to take your agenda, which is whatever you want them to do or learn from that moment, “don’t talk to me that way”, “hurry up, do your homework,” “don’t hit your brother.” And you’re going to put it aside until you’ve finished the mirroring technique.

It’s actually very important for children to have loving limits. That’s what helps children to feel safe and more emotionally organized.

And I always say to parents that they’re not actually parents. They’re substitute frontal lobes. Their job is to regulate, organize, prioritize, and do everything that the frontal lobe can do, because their kids don’t have a frontal lobe yet.

How to use “Affect Matching” to release powerful beneficial chemicals in your child’s brain

Affect Matching is the second part of the C.A.L.M technique, and it means that you should try to mirror your child’s facial expression and body language, in order to release calming oxytocin hormones.

Jennifer Kolari: The next thing you’re going to do is the A, so that’s Affect Matching. So that’s where the look on your face really has to similarly match the look on the child’s face.

Like if they’re angry, look urgent and intense, like, “Okay, tell me what’s going on.” And on my face is a very similar look.

If they’re sad, you’re like, “Oh, tell me what’s going on.” I’m going to have a very similar look on my face.

And that’s where the mirroring happens. That’s where the mirror neuron cells in the brain get stimulated. And that’s how oxytocin is released. And oxytocin is a hormone that actually blocks cortisol, strengthens the immune system, speeds up neuroplasticity, actually makes kids smarter.

And you get the bounce back too. So, it’s kind of like a double medicine.

The “3 Listening Techniques” that makes it clear to your child that you consider their viewpoint important

Listen is the third part of the C.A.L.M technique, and here Jennifer shares three important listening techniques you can use.

Jennifer Kolari: The third part is the Listening part. So, this is where you use your words. You can summarize or paraphrase, you can clarify, or you can wonder out loud.

Let’s say you have a situation where your little one doesn’t want to wear their raincoat. The way that we normally do it is:

“Honey, put your rain coat on now.”

“No, I don’t want to do that!”

“Honey, put your rain coat on please. I know you don’t want to wear it, but you have to wear it!”

“No! No!”

“Mommy’s going to start counting, one, two,” and off you go. Right?

But you’re going to apply the technique to this, and you’re going to say,

“You know what? I know you don’t always like to wear your raincoat, but you’re going to get wet. And we’re going in the grocery store, and you might get cold, so I’m going to give you a minute to think about it.”

“No, no, I don’t want to wear my raincoat!”

And you say, “You know what? I get it. It’s bunchy and it’s kind of hot and you don’t like wearing it. You told me last week you didn’t want to wear it.” So that’s the summary.

Or I can clarify. “Okay. Tell me why this raincoat drives you so crazy. What part of wearing a raincoat is so terrible? Tell me. Help me understand.” No sarcasm. Just real.

You can wonder out loud. “You know what I’m wondering? This isn’t so much about the raincoat, but it’s more about where we’re going. Like you really don’t want to go to whatever, right?”

So, you can summarize or paraphrase, you can clarify, and you can wonder out loud.

Why Mirroring is a parenting superpower

Jennifer Kolari: And then the M stands for mirroring. When you’ve pulled all those things together, you’ve had a really powerful mirroring moment, and most of the time the child is biochemically de-escalated, and they’re going to put the rain coat on.

They might be pouting about it, they might kind of stomp out the door, but they’ll probably put it on. Like 95% of the time, they’ll put it on.

It’s like a superpower. It’s a parenting superpower.

Why connecting with your child will save you time and end up being less stressful

Jennifer shares why using the C.A.L.M method makes your life easier and saves you time.

Sue Meintjes: In the moment it is stressful. You need to get somewhere, and your child is emotional. You are emotional. What are practical ways that parents can do that?

Jennifer Kolari: There’s a couple of things. First of all, parents sometimes say to me, “I don’t have time to do that.” But the truth is, you don’t have time not to do that, because if you don’t do that, your kid’s going to run around and not put their raincoat on, or refuse to get in the car, or whatever it is.

If you just take that second, and invest in that moment, most of the time, your child will then do what they need to do in that moment. So, your brain will tell you, “You don’t have time. You have to just tell them, ‘Hurry up, let’s go.’” But that’s just going to make your child push back and double down.

How to use “Front Loading” when you suspect your child is going to be uncooperative

Jennifer Kolari: So, there’s a couple things you can do to make using the C.A.L.M technique easier.

One is to make sure that you’re front loading. So don’t just say to your kids. “Come on, let’s go.” Give them a nice window, five, ten minutes and say “Hey, in a few minutes. We’re going to need to go.”

You can even do some pre-mirroring: “I know you’re comfortable and you don’t want to go where we’re going,” or whatever it is. So that when it’s actually time to flow through the morning, that will work.

When, and how, to use the “Stay in Motion” technique for resolving situations when your child just does not want to cooperate

Jennifer Kolari: Another technique that I think works really well after (mirroring is always first) is to just act like you’re going. If you start arguing with them, you’re going to get into a whole thing.

Just say, “Oh yeah, we’re going,” and act like you’re moving and get your coat on and actually start to move through what you’re asking them to do.

If they’re old enough, you can just start walking to the car and they’ll usually follow you.

I call it “Stay in Motion.”

Because if you stand there pulling your child towards you, they’ll dig down and say no. But if you’re like, “Hey, I know you can do it, I believe in you. I’m going to give you a minute, I’m going to walk away and I’m pretty sure you’re going to be following me.” Most of the time they’re following you.

Sue Meintjes: Yeah, I find that definitely too, if you start walking, they see you mean business and they walk with you.

Jennifer Kolari: Exactly.

Mistakes you need to avoid when using the C.A.L.M. Technique

Jennifer shares some common mistakes that parents make when starting to use the C.A.L.M technique, and how to avoid them.

Sue Meintjes: Is there anything else parents need to know or be mindful of when trying to use this method?

Jennifer Kolari: There’s another technique that’s very similar, called active listening. It’s a technique where people say, “I understand you must be very frustrated. I know you don’t want to wear that raincoat.” But can you hear the lilts in my voice? That’s going to feel a little bit like a technique.

And a lot of people and children will just double down. “Don’t say everything that I’m saying!”

It won’t work the same way. There’s a difference between saying, “I know you don’t want to wear that ring. I understand that you don’t want to wear it,” but you can hear where the sing song in my voice is going. It’s leading to, “but you’re going to wear it anyway.”

So, with mirroring it must be quite pure. There are no observational statements. No, “it sounds like,” “it must be,” “I’m hearing that,” “you’re feeling.”

It’s just like, “Oh, I get it. You don’t want to wear it. It’s bunchy and it’s hot. And you told me yesterday how much you don’t want to wear it. And here I am again telling you to wear it.”

And then the kid calms down because you’ve heard their message, and then you get to say why they need to wear it. So maybe “You’re going to get all wet and you’re going to the grocery store and they’re going to be cold.”

A whole other element is sometimes you don’t make them wear it. Let them figure out what happens once they don’t wear it. You can pick your battles. So, either way, you can mirror and say, “Well, why don’t you not wear it? And then you’ll figure it out. You’re very smart. Next time you’ll figure out what you need to do. I’m happy to let you figure that out.”

So that’s fine too, right?

But when it’s something that they really have to do, mirroring will come in very handy.

You really should mirror as much as possible for your children because it builds emotional literacy and emotional resilience.

Action steps

Here are my action steps that I got from this interview. I hope you’ll find these useful as well:

  • Next time your child is upset, instead of trying to calm them down, try to first connect with them, by trying to understand why they are acting that way

  • When you child shows strong emotions, try to activate their mirror neurons by matching their facial expression and body language

  • Practice the three listening techniques with your child, or with another person: summarize & paraphrase, clarify, wonder out loud

  • When you know that you are going to have to ask your child to do something they likely won’t want to do, try the “Front Loading” technique

  • Try the “Stay in Motion” technique next time your child does not want to cooperate

  • Watch Jennifer’s free one-hour parenting webinar on how to be a Connected Parent here 

This interview is part of How To Get Kids To Listen: Leading International Parenting Experts Reveal Their Best Secrets For Getting Kids To Cooperate, an ebook containing a collection of interviews I did with parenting experts from around the world.

I asked each expert one simple question: What is your best strategy for getting kids to listen and cooperate? and then listened as they shared their best parenting tips and advice.

How To Get Kids To Listen is available for free download here