Kids & Company Blog

5 Steps to Managing Big Emotions

Our kids’ big emotions can be so triggering for us as parents.  It is tough to see our little ones having a hard time. It is even harder if it brings up lots of discomfort, anger, disappointment and other feelings in us as parents. 

Many of us did not grow up being able to express big feelings and so we may be holding on to a story that they are “bad” or should be stuffed down or have no idea how to deal with them.  That makes sense.  If we don’t know how to get comfortable with our own challenging emotions how can we support our kids through theirs?

The first step in dealing with our kid’s big emotions is understanding our own.  We cannot help our child regulate if we are dysregulated.

Perhaps seeing your child have a meltdown makes you feel out of control and powerless which can be scary.  So, we might want to regain control by using a threat or bribe to make the meltdown stop.  But rewards or punishments actually rupture our relationship.  It sends the message that our love is conditional and that they need to earn our approval.  Children will then try to please to either avoid punishment or earn the reward.  This make it less likely a child will trust their parents and it models the use of power which they may then default to as well in their own relationships.

Rewards and punishments may result in the behavior stopping in the short term but not the long term.  Why?  Because we never actually solved the root cause of the behavior.  All behavior is a message and our child is doing the best they can in that moment.  

Tantrums are completely age appropriate for young kids and can even occur in older kid and let’s be honest, adults as well.  Until the age of 7 our kids are predominately living in their middle-brain – their feeling brain.  Hence all the big feelings.  Starting at age 7 their higher brain starts to develop.  This is where problem solving, impulse control and rational thinking resides.  Our prefrontal cortex (higher brain) isn’t fully developed until our mid-twenties.  It is a skill that needs to be developed.  So, what can we do when our child is having a hard time?

Get comfortable with the uncomfortable.

Step 1: Pause & regulate your own emotions

As I mentioned above, many times our kids are behaving in completely age appropriate ways but we are the ones that flip our lids.  

Step 2: Empathize

All behavior is an attempt to get a need met.  So, think about what your child may be feeling and needing.  As you build your emotional intelligence you can then become the emotional scientist to guide your child.  

Step 3: Acknowledge what is going on for YOU

Our kids’ behavior is like a mirror, holding up parts of us that remain unhealed.  Maybe you had a long day at work and you are tired and just need your child to cooperate without a fight.  Maybe you are longing for your kids to be in bed so you can get some much-needed time to yourself.  Whatever it is, give yourself some self-compassion.

“Wow, this is really hard’ or ‘This situation really sucks!” or “This kid is driving me crazy!”  Don’t edit your thoughts or feelings.  All are welcome and important to acknowledge.  Suppressing or judging our thoughts will just result in them emerging later on in possibly unhealthy ways.

Step 4: Compassionate communication

This is the idea from Daniel Siegel, “Name it to tame it.”  Sometimes all we have to do is acknowledge their feelings.  Helping them to feel seen & heard can do wonders in helping a child calm down.

Get on their level.  If they are on the ground, get on the ground with them.  Hold space for their feelings.  All feelings are ok.  We can shift to correcting behavior once everyone is regulated.

“Aww I see you having fun building with your blocks.  It is hard to stop and go for bath, isn’t it?”

Be the safe harbor for your child.  

Step 5: Explore a solution together

Don’t jump to this step until your child is calm.  For older kids you don’t need to problem solve right then and there.  You can agree on a time the following day to chat about it and come up with solutions together.  For younger kids you want to do it shortly after they are regulated.  They have a much shorter memory so talking about it later they might say, “I don’t remember.”

You want to explore solutions together.  Avoid jumping in to “fix” the problem.  For younger kids, you might share 2 ideas and get their thoughts on it.  This helps them build problem solving skills and helps them feel bought into the solution.

This approach may feel foreign to many of us who were parented OVER instead of WITH.

For example, if your child doesn’t want to go for bath, you can hold limit that it is bath time but you can propose 2 options, “Do you want to get a piggy back ride to the bath or hop there like a bunny?” 

The path to dealing with our kid’s big emotions is through co-regulation.  As we co-regulate with them, they start to learn self-regulation.

Get comfortable with the uncomfortable and learn to decode the message beneath the behavior to support your child.  Don’t’ forget to get support for yourself along the way as well.  Parenting is hard and you don’t need to do it alone.

This blog is guest-written by Jenn Abbatiello, Certified Parent Coach & Founder of Your Transformed Family.  Visit the website for more information and to get in touch with any questions. Or connect with Jenn on Instagram @yourtransformedfamily or Tiktok @jennabba.

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