Kids may have smaller bodies, but that doesn’t mean they don’t experience big feels. However, unlike adults, they haven’t yet developed the coping mechanisms necessary to manage their emotions. That means you, as a grown-up, need to help.
How can you assist your child in processing challenging, overwhelming feelings? Doing so requires a significant degree of emotional intelligence because you need to navigate the rocky seas of feelings simultaneously. Fortunately, many of the self-soothing techniques you can teach your little one work for you, too. Here’s what to do.
Teach Your Child to Identify Different Emotions
If your child lacks the words to describe what they feel, they will act out — sometimes, in ways you deem inappropriate. As a parent, you have to teach your child how to put words to their feelings so that they can express themselves in a socially acceptable fashion.
How can you teach your young one to manage their emotions? One technique you can use is reading books together. Reading is a phenomenal activity because it helps prepare your child academically, but stories also teach critical life lessons. You can find books to help children identify and manage their emotions at your local library. Pick up a copy of “The Grouchy Ladybug” by Eric Carle or “Llama Llama Mad at Mama” by Anna Dewdney.
Another technique you can use is people-watching. When you go to the park or the shopping mall with your tyke, observe the expressions on the faces of passersby. For example, you could say, “That woman is walking quickly. Her eyes are straight ahead, and her lips aren’t smiling. How do you think she’s feeling, and why?” Even if they respond that the woman looks stressed because she lost her pet unicorn, they’ve still identified a feeling.
You can also play games by asking your child to act out feeling happy or angry. This activity helps them connect emotion and behavior, and can even aid you in enforcing rules. Since 47% of kids experience bullying by 3rd grade, you might say, “No teasing at the playground because that hurts people’s feelings.” However, if your child doesn’t know what behaviors represent teasing, they may grow indignant when they get in trouble without understanding why.
Validate How They Feel
Has anyone ever told you to calm down when you felt ready to blow your top? How did that go? Chances are, you wanted to strangle the speaker — but you’re an adult with fine-tuned impulse control. Children don’t yet have that ability, and they look to you for guidance — and validation. If it makes you angry when people discount your feelings, you best believe it upsets your little one, too.
Worse, failing to validate your child’s feelings constitutes childhood emotional neglect, which can create a lasting ripple effect throughout their lives. They may grow uncomfortable at the slightest display of emotion because they don’t understand how they’re supposed to react. Even when someone compliments them, they may struggle to accept praise because they don’t know what makes them stand out.
Create a Series of Self-Soothing Rituals
Once your little ones can identify their emotions, and you’ve validated their feelings, it’s time to help them manage their responses. Try the following techniques.
Take a Timeout
The critical factor in instituting this activity is to treat timeout as a pleasant activity — not a punishment. Child psychologists know that shame does not effectively motivate anyone, let alone tender tykes. Instead of demanding your child go to their room as punishment, say, “You seem a little overwhelmed right now. Please go read or play quietly in your room until you’re ready to discuss what’s bothering you.” This statement validates their feeling while giving them — and you — space to calm down.
Take a Mental Vacation
When emotions threaten to overwhelm people of any age, they can become stuck in a negative thought spiral. This phenomenon affects kids more because they lack the maturity to reframe these patterns. Help them to do so by guiding them on a mental vacation. Keep in mind their idea of a holiday might not entail lounging on a beach. Instead, walk them through an image of riding a horse or climbing a mountain.
Use a Toy
Even adults use stress balls and other objects to manage challenging feelings. If your child threatens to meltdown, having them hug a favorite teddy bear or squeeze your hand can provide tactile comfort.
Pump Up the Jam
Music is a fabulous method for managing emotions. Put on your child’s favorite music and let them sing and dance. Better yet, get into the act with them. You’ll burn some extra calories and enjoy bonding.
Act It Out
Many children have dolls and action figures. If your little one struggles to explain how they’re feeling about an incident at school, have them playact with their toys to show you what occurred. Then, you can discuss what happened and process your emotions together.
Help Your Child Get a Grip on Big Feels
Your child looks to you to learn how to identify emotions and validate them as worthy of respect. Share these techniques with them to help them grow into mentally well-adjusted adults.