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Helping Your Child Manage Big Feelings

Updated: Mar 16


Learning to manage emotions is a big and important developmental skill for children. They are learning all about how to deal with feeling angry, upset, frustrated, anxious, and even happy or excited!  Strong emotions can be overwhelming. Many children experience challenges managing these feelings. They may be easily frustrated, easily angered, or reactive to minor triggers.  At times, their emotional response may be much bigger than you’d expect. If we’re honest, emotion regulation is a difficult skill for most adults too! 


Emotions are essential to your child’s everyday life, helping them respond to situations and make decisions. While emotions are often considered to be personal internal experiences, they are also shaped by social, cultural, and biological factors. These factors influence your child’s thoughts, behavior, and relationships. Emotions are not positive (like happiness) or negative (like anger).



All emotions are natural and valid! 


When we experience strong emotions, the part of the brain that is active in that moment is very primitive, often called the dinosaur brain. This makes it very difficult to access the logical part of the brain that is more rational and capable of reasoning.  It is important to separate your child’s behavior from their emotional response.  Behavior is intentional, whereas the things your child does when upset will not be under their control in that moment.


Try practicing some of these tips to help your child manage big feelings more effectively


Stay calm! Our nervous systems co-regulate. If your child is upset and you get upset, your child will get more upset. If you stay calm, your child will get calm. 

  • Use a soft, soothing, and low voice.

  • Whisper.

  • Show that you are regulating yourself by taking deep breaths, blowing some bubbles, or squeezing a stress ball.

  • Move your body slowly.


Get close to where they are and down to their eye level if your child is not overstimulated. Touch them only if they are okay with being touched when agitated. Many children do not want to be touched when upset. 


Validate what your child is going through using few words. 

  • Identify what happened and how they may be feeling:

    • I can see you are frustrated you can’t have another cookie.

    • You really wanted to play with your friend today, you must be disappointed that they canceled.

    • You’re angry your sister took your toy.


Empathize

  • I don’t like cleaning up either.

  • I never liked doing homework when I was your age either.

  • I’m disappointed too that it’s raining. I really wanted to go to the beach.


Allow your child to feel and experience their emotions. Don’t try to sooth them or make them feel better, as this provides too much attention for the outburst and does not teach them how to regulate themselves. 


Give your child a hug or deep pressure if they like this, but keep talking to a minimum. 


Stay firm with your boundary. 

  • If you said no, enforced a rule/consequence, or placed a demand, do not go back on it! 


Try not to:

  • Reason with them when they are upset, they do not have access to the logical part of the brain in that moment. 

  • Give too much attention, as this will fuel the outburst/tantrum.

  • Talk too much.

  • Try to fix the problem. 

    • Your child can often solve their own problems, but they need to be calm and well-regulated first to see the solution clearly.

  • Change your boundary or be inconsistent because you don’t want them to be upset. 

    • Don’t say ‘yes’ just to make them happy or to get them to stop crying. 

  • Keep punishing them or adding new punishments for the things they do or says when they are upset.

  • Yell, make threats, or get aggressive. 


Once your child is calm, you can then have a conversation about what happened. If it is necessary for there to be a consequence, this would be time to discuss that as well. 


Move on once it is over. Kids are very focused on being in the moment.  You may still be upset or reeling from the incident, but once your child has calmed down, they are likely ready to be over it. Don’t hold a grudge or resentment. Be a “Teflon” parent. Don’t let it stick!


The earlier you can detect emotional dysregulation, and the earlier you can prompt your child to use tools, the more likely they will be able to do so. Because it is hard to be logical when we are upset, it is unlikely your child will be able to use their emotion regulation tools once they are already agitated. This is okay and will take practice. It is very unlikely to happen once they are already escalated.


Show your child that you are not afraid of their big feelings and that you have the capacity to “hold” those emotions for them.  By staying regulated yourself when your child is upset, they will begin to recognize that they are safe, even if they feel out of control.


Lastly, have compassion for your child and yourself! Managing big feelings is hard work!


Interested in more parenting tips?

Ask about Worrywell's Parent Management Training today.




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