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Helping Your Child Manage Big Emotions

By Ashley Marlow, school counselor for early childhood–Grade 5
The school counselor shares suggestions on how to support children with their emotions.
Humans feel a wide range of emotions. Children are learning to make sense of their world, which can often feel confusing, unfair, overwhelming and scary. This can sometimes lead to emotional meltdowns. From an adult perspective, it can be very tempting to tell children and teens that they are overreacting when they respond with big emotions to a seemingly trivial situation. However, we have to recognize that for them, it is a BIG deal and the best way to support them is to meet them where they are at. When children learn that we will help them through the emotional ups and downs of adolescence, they will be more likely to come to us about more serious situations. Here are some suggestions for helping your child manage big emotions:

  1. Validate and support. It's not helpful to dismiss feelings and tell people to calm down. What does help is feeling heard and understood. Say, “It’s OK to feel upset. I sometimes feel that way, and I’m right here with you.”

  1. Name it to tame it. Normalize that they won’t always feel happy, and big emotions can feel uncomfortable, but they serve a purpose in helping us to recognize when something is bothering us. It is empowering to be able to identify what emotions we are experiencing so that we can learn different strategies for coping with them. Say, “I can see you have some frustrated feelings right now. Let’s try taking some deep breaths to calm your body.”

  1. Help them learn how to ride the wave of emotion. It is understandable to want to “fix” what is bothering our children. However, there will come a time when we are not available, so it is an important life skill for them to learn how to problem-solve and cope independently. Brainstorming ideas together will help them rely less on you for all the answers because, with practice, they will learn how to talk themselves through a situation. Say, “I’m sorry you’re feeling _________. What do you think would help you to feel better?”

  1. Teach them that all feelings are OK, but certain behaviors are not. If children feel like their feelings are dismissed or that they will be punished for having them, they will be more likely to hide their feelings and needs in the future. Instead, help them learn how to cope with big emotions with healthy strategies. Say, “It’s OK to feel mad, but it’s not OK to hit your sister. What can you try instead the next time you have mad feelings?”

  1. Model the skills that you want your child to develop. Children are always watching and learning from what we do (especially if it contradicts what we say!). If they see that you are practicing the skills you tell them to try, they will be more likely to do them too. Say, “I am feeling disappointed that my presentation at work didn’t go well. I’m going to have some quiet time to help myself feel better.”

The Wellness team believes in a school-community-family partnership, and we want to support you however we can. Please reach out to your child’s school counselor if you would like to learn about available resources. 

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