Although kids aren’t the only ones to struggle with controlling their emotions (as was evident last week when I cried over not being able to find Velcro dots!), they do not have the coping skills and life experience to be able to navigate through big emotions without some guidance. Many parents aren’t sure where to start when it comes to helping their child control their emotions. This will give you a roadmap to help them.
How to Help a Child Control their Emotions:
Provide an emotional vocabulary.
The first step in helping your child learn to manage their own emotions is to teach them to identify their feelings. Give them the language to be able to name their feelings. This is a powerful tool to arm a child with.
The Teaching Emotions Toolkit has everything needed to give kids the vocabulary they need to be able to identify and name their own feelings.
Learning to recognize feelings in others.
Once a child is more fluent in the language of emotions, they can begin to recognize feelings not only in themselves, but in others as well.
If you’re watching a movie or TV show, discuss how the situations may make the characters feel. Do this especially with situations that kids may find themselves in someday such as bullying.
Model talking about your own feelings and your coping strategies.
Name your feelings honestly. Then provide your child some insight into your coping strategies. This will help them to learn how to manage their own emotions.
- “I feel disappointed that it’s snowing today so I can’t go for a run like I planned. I guess I’ll have to walk on the treadmill instead.”
- “I am frustrated that my computer isn’t working. I want to throw it across the room which would not be wise, so I’d better get up and walk away. I’ll take a little break and come back to try again when I’m feeling calmer.”
- “I’m excited that tomorrow is the big birthday party. I think I’ll go to bed a bit early tonight in case it takes me longer to fall asleep.”
- “I’m worried about my interview on Friday. I know that worry doesn’t do any good. It helps to talk about my feelings and practise what I’ll say in the interview. Would you help me with that?”
- “I’m feeling angry. I’m going to sit here and do some calm down breathing for a few minutes.”
By actively listening to your child express their feelings, you are showing them that their feelings matter to you, that your child matters to you. You can repeat the emotion words back to them.
“I hear you say that you felt angry when he took away your toy. Do you want to tell me more about that?” By listening to your child’s feelings, they will learn that you are a safe place for them.
Help them identify their triggers.
Triggers are very dependant on the child. For some, it may be sensory triggers or a trauma trigger, while for others, it may be a particular feeling such as frustration that serves as a trigger for a meltdown or an aggressive response. Once you help your child to identify what their most common triggers are, you can help them to recognize them in the early stages and put in place some coping strategies.
Gauge the intensity of the emotion.
Using a feelings thermometer or chart, help your child determine how intense their feeling is.
Prevent emotional outbursts or meltdowns as much as possible.
Adequate sleep, good nutrition, water, regular exercise, and sensory breaks can go a long way towards preventing meltdowns before they start.
I know that I’m certainly more able to handle life’s curveballs when I’ve had a good night’s sleep. I’m also way more reasonable when I’m not hangry!
Teach that it’s okay to make mistakes.
Mistakes are how we learn. Kids who fear making mistakes or strive for perfection tend to have a harder time coping with emotions.
The Growth Mindset Challenge Kit and the Big Life Journal are two of my favourite tools for this. I also really like the book Your Fantastic, Elastic Brain for this reason. It is so good at explaining the concept of mistakes being necessary in a way that kids can understand.
Teach coping strategies.
Calm down strategies are a big part of teaching coping strategies, but they are not the only part. If a child takes a break or walks away when they see a trigger arise, that is also a coping strategy.
If there is a particular situation that comes up repeatedly that causes big emotions in your child, help him think of a strategy for managing that particular situation.
Come up with a plan together. Role play and practise often. Once he has practised managing that situation with his new strategies, he will be better equipped to deal with it in real life.
Teaching your child to better manage their emotions will empower them. They will feel more in control. This will equip them with the skills needed to face their day.
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