Big Emotions Can Cause Big Problems – Here’s How Parents Can Help

Parents are always juggling a dozen things at once… and then the kids are fighting or running through the house or being downright destructive while we’re trying to get everything done.

And then, we get completely overwhelmed, and our emotions sometimes get the best of us.

The same thing happens to our kids, but they don’t possess the experience or self-control that adults do – so how can we help?

It’s very easy to get reactive – to yell or cry or get angry – especially for a child who is trying to process big emotions.

They feel everything all at once, but they don’t have the maturity yet to understand why they’re feeling what they’re feeling.

These overwhelming feelings can manifest as anger (with reactions like hitting, kicking, biting, or yelling), or anxiety (crying, running off, hiding, or bed-wetting).

Adults know that when we hold in our feelings, or when our feelings get too overwhelming, we can actually have a physical reaction.  

We may not be able to calm ourselves down, and we end up feeling downright lousy.  So you can imagine how difficult this self-regulation can be for kids.

But when kids identify the “what and why” of their emotions, they can begin to recognize ways to prevent becoming reactive.

Recognizing emotions starts with labeling them, and this is one of the first things kids learn – happy, sad, surprised, etc.

We can help our kids learn to connect their actions to their emotions by making simple observations when they are young.  

It’s important for us to acknowledge their emotions verbally — for instance, “You look really happy to see your friend,” or “You look sad that your toy got broken.”

And when they get reactive — for example, throwing a toy in frustration – it’s important to stop and talk it through by noticing the emotion they’re exhibiting.

“You have tears in your eyes.  It must be frustrating that your block tower fell down” is more helpful than just asking them why they’re frustrated and helps them to connect to their emotions.

Probably the most important thing we can do when our child is working through a big emotion is to remain calm and patient.

If we get reactive with a loud voice (“You know better than to throw toys!!), our own frustration, or a punishment like sending them to time-out, very young children learn to hide their emotions for fear of a negative response.

By talking it out calmly, they’ll be much more likely to come to us when they are feeling emotionally overwhelmed the next time.

Then it’s important to tell them it’s ok to feel the way they’re feeling.  “We all get frustrated.  It’s ok to feel disappointed when things don’t go your way.”

When kids can make connections between physical reactions and emotions (crying when sad; laughing when happy), then those emotions become easier to understand and process.

Because every child handles their emotions differently, it’s up to us as parents to find techniques that work for them.

Do they need a break in a quiet place?  Does it help for them to run around outside for a few minutes?  Maybe they need to draw a picture of what they’re feeling.

Some kids benefit from concrete tools like a picture chart of faces expressing different emotions (just like adults use emojis!), where they can point to how they’re feeling.

And some will need a break before they talk to you about what they’re feeling.  A paper traffic light stuck to the wall or fridge works great for this.  Red light – “I’m not ready to talk yet,” and so on.

Big emotions can be scary for young children.  They don’t understand why they can’t hold back the tears or why they’re throwing toys when they know it’s wrong.

But by working to help them connect circumstances and emotions, then helping them to learn what works for them to handle these emotions, they’ll be able to respond appropriately to different situations as they get older.

Do you have any tips for helping kids to understand and cope with their big emotions?  Leave us your ideas!

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