How to Help Children Handle Their Emotions

These 5 tips can move them along.
By Julie Baumgardner
September 8, 2017

How do you feel when your child has a meltdown? You probably do everything you can think of to help them, but absolutely nothing works. It could be in the store checkout line, at bedtime, the second you walk in your friend’s house or at a birthday party. You may find yourself at wits’ end and literally on the verge of having your own meltdown.

There probably isn’t a parent on the planet who can’t relate to this experience. Your blood pressure goes up and you can feel everyone watching you. So, you reach into the recesses of all you know about good parenting in an attempt to use something you’ve learned, but absolutely nothing will console your child.

What now?

Before you judge yourself too harshly, know that you are not alone. There’s nothing worse than feeling out of control. Children have meltdowns. But guess what? Sometimes adults do, too.

Christie Burnett, editor of Childhood 101, encourages parents to consider developing a “Calm Down Plan” to help children handle their emotions. These steps can help them when they are upset or feel out of control.

5 Steps to Managing Big Emotions

  1. Remember that it’s never OK to hurt others. Set clear guidelines about what is acceptable and what isn’t. For example, physically hurting others or destroying things is not acceptable, nor is it OK to say hurtful things.
  2. Take three deep breaths or count slowly to 10. Breathing deeply or slowly counting to 10 gives your child time to recognize their body’s warning signs, such as a tense body, clenched teeth or a racing heart. Talk with your child about how their body feels when they are angry or frustrated. Then introduce the idea of taking a few breaths to compose themselves and choose a better course of action than striking out at another person.
  3. Use words to express feelings and hopes. Acknowledging their feelings gives them legitimacy. Saying what they wish would take place helps to open a problem-solving conversation. Sometimes what they wish would happen is not acceptable, but this is part of the learning process. It’s also a great opportunity to help them think of other options.
  4. Ask for help to solve the problem. Talking through a problem helps to process the situation, even for adults. Let your child know it is OK to ask for help solving a problem, and keep channels of communication open so they feel they can always come to you for help. One day, they’ll be working on much bigger problems than a spat with a sibling or frustration with a friend.
  5. Take the time needed to calm down. Teach your child that sometimes the proposed solution may not seem to be enough. They may still feel angry or upset after working through each of the steps. In these situations, it’s often better to walk away or find another safe way to defuse those feelings.

Whether you’re younger or older, it isn’t easy when you feel out of control. These steps can provide a sense of security and help you develop a plan of attack for those moments when big emotions try to take over.

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