how to help young kids deal with strong emotions

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If you are looking for solutions on how to help young kids deal with strong emotions, I hope you’ll find some good ideas in this article.

My son was playing quietly in the children’s room of the museum.

From time to time, he came to show me how tall his tower of wooden blocks was. He was so proud of his colorful construction!

At some point, another child entered the room and rushed to the table where he was playing. Then, out of the sudden, he destroyed my son’s tower completely!

What followed was a complete tsunami of anger!

My son wanted to hit the other child. To throw wooden blocks at him. He even tried to move the whole table on the other side of the room.

I managed to stop his attempts, but it was really hard to convince him to sit down with me for a while to calm down.

I could see his red cheeks and clenched fists, and I knew that he was very mad!

If you are looking for solutions on how to help young kids deal with strong emotions, I hope that you'll find some good ideas in this article. | Gentle parenting tips | Managing emotions | Handling tantrums | Developing emotional intelligence | Talking with kids about emotions

photo credit: Evgeny Bakharev / shutterstock.com

It wasn’t the first time when he faced such an intense emotion. And it certainly wasn’t the last time!

But in time, he learned to deal with his emotions much better. And, at the same time, I learned how to help him more when it comes to managing strong emotions.

When I faced his first tantrums, it was so hard for me to help him! I felt so hopeless!

But luckily things got better. Along the way, we both learned two very helpful lessons:

  • The emotions aren’t good or bad. All emotions are normal, and we need to allow ourselves to feel them.
  • What really matters is the way we react to emotions. We can’t control how we feel, but we can control how we choose to act.

Young kids need to learn how to deal with their emotions. They need to understand how they can tame their emotions. And most of all, they need to learn how to make the right choice when they feel overwhelmed by strong emotions.

How to teach kids to deal with strong emotions

I’ve gathered here the tips that really made a difference for us.

I learned most of them by reading books and articles written by Laura Markham (the author of “Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting“) and Tina Payne Bryson (the co-author of “The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind“).

All young children have difficult moments when they feel completely overwhelmed by their emotions, and it’s our job as parents to guide them through the process of dealing with these intense feelings.

Here is how to do this:

1. Offer empathy and help the child name the feeling

What helped me understand my child better was to do a short exercise and think about what I need most when I feel angry or sad.

If someone is just telling me to calm down or is trying to explain to me that I have no reason to be angry or sad, this doesn’t make me feel better. On the opposite, it can actually make me angrier.

The same principle applies to kids.

If you are looking for solutions on how to help young kids deal with strong emotions, I hope that you'll find some good ideas in this article. | Gentle parenting tips | Managing emotions | Handling tantrums | Developing emotional intelligence | Talking with kids about emotions

photo credit: Alena Ozerova / shutterstock.com

They need to feel that the parent understands them and acknowledges their feelings. So instead of saying “calm down” or “stop crying”, it’s way better express our empathy.

Phrases like “I see that you are very sad” or “I understand you feel so angry because of what happened” are a great way to show to the child that their feelings are accepted and understood.

When the feeling becomes less intense, and we can talk with the child about what happened, it is very useful to help them name the emotion.

Identifying and naming the negative feeling is the first important step to overcoming it.

Asking “how did this make you feel?” is a perfect way to encourage the child to express his feelings.

2. Allow kids to talk about their emotions and understand them

When children go through an emotional meltdown, talking is not really helping because they cannot really hear us.

But afterward, a discussion can help the child understand what happened and what they can do better next time.

You can start by inviting your child to tell you what happened.

Even if you saw what happened, it is important to see the child’s perspective. And you can use this opportunity to name the emotions and guide the child in finding a better way to handle the emotions next time.

Asking questions helps the child learn from the experience.

Here are some questions I usually use:
  • “What happened? Why were you so angry / upset / sad?”
  • “How did this situation make you feel?”
  • “How did this anger /sadness feel in your body?”
  • “How did this feeling make you react?”
  • “Do you think there is a better way to react when you feel this way?”
  • “What would be a better choice for next time you find yourself in a similar situation?”

And the most important question that I always ask at the end: “Do you need a big hug to help you make this anger / sadness disappear?“.

This is a wonderful question because it allows kids to reconnect with us and let go of negative feelings! I let my son stay in my arms as long as he wants.

In the end, he is happy again and willing to act better the next time.

If you are looking for solutions on how to help young kids deal with strong emotions, I hope that you'll find some good ideas in this article. | Gentle parenting tips | Managing emotions | Handling tantrums | Developing emotional intelligence | Talking with kids about emotions

photo credit: Alena Ozerova / shutterstock.com

The most important lesson I want my kids to learn is that we can’t choose the way we feel, but we can always choose the way we behave when we have those feelings.

>> Click here to download the printable cheat sheet: How to help kids deal with strong emotions

3. Be a role model when it comes to handling strong emotions

This may seem simple, but it’s not always that easy! At least not for me.

When I am tired, and my son has a meltdown, it’s sometimes really hard to keep my calm and be gentle and empathetic. But I know that this is so important for both of us!

“When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not join their chaos.” (L.R. Knost)

This is so true! Kids look up to us, and they learn more from what we do than from what we say. So we cannot teach them to handle their emotions if they see us having our own “tantrums” when we get angry!

The biggest mistake I used to make when my son started to have meltdowns was getting into an argument with him. I was trying to convince him using rational arguments, and it never worked!

Because when kids are overwhelmed by emotions, they don’t need rational explanations.

They just need our support to be able to calm down. Once they have the guidance they need to overcome the strong emotions, they will be able to listen to us and learn better ways to behave.

So in most cases, the best thing to do is just to be there for my son. To reassure him that I understand his feelings and that he can share them with me. To reconnect with him before starting any discussion about what went wrong and how he can handle things better.

And this works every single time!

I don’t manage to keep my calm every time when he is having a difficult moment. I try to be a calm mom and be gentle with him even when I am angry, but I still make mistakes.

If you are looking for solutions on how to help young kids deal with strong emotions, I hope that you'll find some good ideas in this article. | Gentle parenting tips | Managing emotions | Handling tantrums | Developing emotional intelligence | Talking with kids about emotions

photo credit: Alena Ozerova / shutterstock.com

In those situations, I always apologize to my son!

And this is another way to teach kids about emotions. They learn that we all make mistakes and let our emotions affect the way we act, but we can always try to make things right after we do something wrong

4. Build connection instead of focusing on correction

Tina Payne Bryson explains in a very simple way why punishments and time-outs are not the right answer to a child’s emotional meltdown.

Punishments send the message that the emotions are bad, and they are unacceptable. Kids learn to hide their emotions from us and to keep these negative feelings inside them.

In the long run, this only leads to more misbehaviors and a bigger disconnection between parent and child.

We certainly don’t want this!

On the other side, peaceful discipline teaches the child to regulate their emotions and builds a stronger relationship that contributes to the child’s healthy emotional development.

The principle of handling strong emotions in a gentle way is really easy: It basically means to put connection first!

We need to listen to the child, empathize with their feelings, and offer our guidance. Once this connection is built, we can go to the next step and discuss the issue.

When kids feel safe and understood, they are more likely to learn to regulate their own emotions.

They learn to identify the strong feelings, name them, and avoid the negative behaviors. It’s not easy, and it takes time for them to learn this, but the gentle approach is totally worthwhile!

If you are looking for solutions on how to help young kids deal with strong emotions, I hope that you'll find some good ideas in this article. | Gentle parenting tips | Managing emotions | Handling tantrums | Developing emotional intelligence | Talking with kids about emotions

photo credit: Alena Ozerova / shutterstock.com

We never punished our son, and we always tried to use gentle guidance instead. And I can really see the positive effects!

He learned to keep his emotions under control better, and he truly tries to make the right choice even when he is angry or upset.

Of course, he doesn’t manage to do the right thing every time. He is just a child, and it’s normal for him to sometimes have difficult times!

But even when he does something wrong, he always comes to me to find together a better way for next time. And these moments are what I love most about peaceful parenting!

5. Talk about emotions in a playful way

This is the easiest part and the most fun! Talking with kids about emotions when they are calm and receptive is a great way to teach them how to handle strong feelings.

Here are some activities to try:

Here are some great children books about emotions that are suitable for young kids:

If you wonder how our little incident from the museum ended up, let me tell you that it actually had a happy ending! 🙂

After my son managed to calm down and we talked about what happened, he returned to the boy and told him that what he did wasn’t nice. Then he started to rebuild his tower.

After a while, the other boy joined him with a much calmer attitude, and they played together very nicely!

I watched them with a smile on my face. Kids are really amazing because they can truly let go of all the negative feelings and start over with their whole heart. And this is a precious lesson that we can learn from them!

Download the cheat sheet: How to help young kids deal with strong emotions

If you want to have all these tips at hand anytime you need them, I’ve created a cheat sheet that you can download and print.

It will be very helpful anytime your child deals with strong emotions, and you want to offer him support and guidance.

>> Click here to download the printable cheat sheet

More parenting tips

Discover easy and effective tips for teaching young kids how to deal with strong emotions and how to behave better when they feel angry or upset.

photo credit preview photo: Alena Ozerova / shutterstock.com – Pinterest photos from depositphotos.com

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7 Comments

  1. Such a great post and thank for the printable! It is important to teach our kids how to deal with negative emotions. This is one of the keys to raising a happy, resilient, and well-adjusted kids. Thank for sharing this!

    1. Raluca Loteanu says:

      Veronica, I am very glad that you liked the post and the printable! Thank you for the nice words!

  2. Hi, I have found your website to be a wonderful tool! However, I cannot d/l the cheat sheet for handling strong emotions. When I receive the email and click on the link, I get a 404 Not Found message. I’d love if this was resolved! Thanks. 🙂