Five Ways to Help Your Child Handle Emotions

Mother talking to her upset daughter

Five Ways to Help Your Child Handle Emotions

Research shows that children who have received emotion coaching from their parents are less likely to have behavioral disorders and they have higher academic achievement later in life. Emotion coaching is providing your child with an avenue to feel and express her feelings in a way that promotes awareness and self-control. 

Here is an overview of the five things you can do to help your child handle emotions:

  1. Allow feelings. It’s important to allow yourself and your child permission to express feelings. Let your little one know that ALL feelings are okay and there is no need to ever criticize or judge yourself or your child for having any emotion. Practice observing and tuning in to how your child expresses feelings. Notice how feelings precede behavior.
  2. Look for opportunities to connect with your child. Consider those tantrums excellent opportunities to be your child’s emotion coach and connect. Encourage your preschooler to notice and express his feelings in words. Offer compassionate guidance as soon as you notice him getting upset. It’s not about “fixing” your child’s negative emotions, but rather, letting him know it is normal to have feelings and that you understand.
  3. Learn to really listen. Listen with your eyes, your posture, and your whole body. We teach children to “actively listen,” but sometimes we don’t show them that same consideration.  Show your child you see and hear that she is having some feelings and needs to find a way to express them. Encourage her to share with you what she is feeling and remind her all of her feelings are okay.
  4. Reflect and create a list of feeling words. Help your child learn and develop a vocabulary of feeling words to identify and express verbally what she is feeling. Rather than telling your child to “stop crying,” you might say, “I can see that you are feeling sad and frustrated right now. I understand you wanted to wear your sandals and I said it’s too cold to wear sandals. That really made you feel sad and frustrated, didn’t it?” This helps your child know how to identify what she feels and helps her to feel heard and understood.
  5. Seek solutions together. Be proactive. When your child is going into a situation where he is likely to become frustrated, help prepare him. For example you might say, “We have to go shoe shopping for your brother today. It might take a while and I know sometimes you feel frustrated when we have to shop. I hope you will tell me when you start to feel frustrated and maybe I can help you through it.”

You can also invite your child to be part of the solution when he misbehaves. For example, if your child throws a toy across the room when he is angry you might say, “I see you are feeling so angry you threw your toy. Toys are not for throwing.  I wonder if we can come up with other things you can do instead when you feel angry.” Look for all the times your child behaves positively and reinforce that behavior by reflecting. Set clear, firm limits when needed, and be sure she knows that negative consequences are due to her behavior and not her feelings.

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