If your child is in that stage of life where their emotions seem to overwhelm them, it might be a good idea to start thinking of ways to help them cope with their big feelings. As a parent, your job is to support your child through the pitfalls of puberty, friendship drama, and pre-adult stages of your child’s life.
Instead of wishing back their years of early adolescence, welcome these new emotions with understanding and patience. Here’s how to help your child cope with big feelings.
Don’t Confuse Emotional for Weak
Sometimes it can be embarrassing to see your child have an emotional outburst in the middle of a supermarket or other places where many people can witness your child’s emotional breakdown. As embarrassing as these situations may be, having emotions or being emotional doesn’t mean that your child is weak. Avoid calling your child names or assuming that their feelings need to be limited or changed. Everyone is born with a different temperament, and your child may have been born with more sensitivity than you are used to.
Teach Your Child About Emotions
Your child needs to be able to identify their feelings. When feelings arise, start naming them as “sad, angry, upset, happy, or scared.” Say, “You look happy right now,” or “It makes me sad we can’t visit Grandma today.”
When watching TV together, strike up conversations about the character’s emotions in the show. Take time to ask your child how they think the character feels after different scenarios. Naming emotions in TV shows or books is a great way to help your child understand and relate to the characters.
Validate Your Child
Emotions can be messy. Children as young as three years old can understand concepts like social cues and correctly label and recognize emotional situations. Despite their understanding of emotions, children can feel overwhelmed and afraid of the emotions they feel. Sometimes, parents inadvertently minimize their child’s feelings. As subtle as this seems, it can send the wrong message to your child and keep them from healthily dealing with their emotions.
Instead of trying to limit your child’s emotions, you need to teach your child that their feelings are OK–even if you think they may be a bit overplayed. Saying, “I know you are mad that we can’t go get ice cream today,” shows that you understand your child is upset but doesn’t validate their feelings. Say, “I know you are mad we can’t go get ice cream today. I, too, get mad when I can’t do the things I want to do, too.” This extra step shows that you understand why your child is mad, and it validates them that you feel the same way sometimes, too.
Give Emotional Support
Most of the time, all our children need is a good hug and an acknowledgment that we understand how they feel. If your child is working through something, pay attention to how they’re responding, and show lots of affection to usher them through their emotions.
Always praise your children when they appropriately handle their emotions. Encouragement and patience are key to helping your child get through tough situations.
Teach Your Child How to Regulate Their Emotions
If your child seems to feel their emotions deeply, it might be a good idea to teach them how to regulate their emotions. Emotional regulation skills are an important way for children to handle uncomfortable situations and uncomfortable feelings.
Here are a few ways you can teach your child to regulate their emotions:
- Take a break.
Taking a break allows your child to take a time out before they reach their boiling point. This puts your child in control of the situations and helps them understand that they control their emotions and handle their emotions.
- Practice deep breathing.
Deep breathing exercises are practiced widely by psychologists and psychiatrists alike. Teach your child how to breathe in slowly and quietly through their nose and then out through their mouth. Repeat a few more times until they have a grasp on the situation.
- Identify mood boosters.
Make a list of things with your child that help them when they’re in a bad mood. If they like to play outside, they may write some of their favorite outdoor activities like riding a bike, coloring with chalk, or blowing bubbles. Or maybe they’re a bookworm, and their favorite book is what they turn to when they’re sad. Whatever your child enjoys, encourage them to channel their emotions into these activities.
As a parent, your job is to support your child on their good and bad days. Helping your child to identify big feelings is a skill that will carry them well into adulthood.