5 tips for managing BIG feelings

by Mandy Herold
When children are taught more descriptive words to describe their feelings, they will be better equipped to understand them and communicate them to others.
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Emotions have a language of their own. When children are taught more descriptive words to describe their feelings, they will be better equipped to understand them and communicate them to others. If we can identify specifically what we’re feeling & we are better able to do something about it. By Connection Coach, Mandy Herold.

How are you? How are you feeling? What’s up? So often when we are asked  or ask this question to our kids, the tendency is to express feelings with just a few words, like “good,” “fine,” “busy,” or “okay.” 

If you’re having trouble naming how you’re feeling,you are not alone! Most of us were not taught emotional literacy, and we don’t get much practice labelling our feelings in everyday life.

However, we’re fortunate to live in a time when research and neuroscience provide concrete evidence to support an idea many have long felt to be true: our relationship with our emotions shapes our brain, our potential for success and the health of all relationships.

Developing emotional literacy  and regulating emotions aids a child’s mental health and also physical well-being, as they are inextricably linked.

Emotion drives cognition. We were emotional creatures before we were intellectual creatures. The intellect is the last part of our brain to develop. Our earliest experiences are emotional ones – we feel long before we think… and later on, our capacity to think clearly is very much dependent to our capacity to be in touch with our emotions.

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So when it comes to helping our children manage their big feelings there is an integral factor that is often overlooked… we as parents need to regulate our feelings before we can help our children manage theirs. Here’s how to do it:

1. Identify your triggers. In order to effectively manage reacting to your triggers, you need to first identity them… whining, eye rolling, being cheeky, sulking… the list goes on.

2. Name the feeling… name it to tame it . Start with: “You seem ______” then take your best educated guess at how they feel.We need to make friends with all our emotions, not just the ones we’re comfortable with. We must get comfortable with the discomfort of unpleasant emotions that leave us feeling unhinged.  

3. Breathe. After you’ve named the feeling, you need to take a few deep breaths to calm those little ( and big) bodies and relax the nervous system. (If you can’t remember anything else – just breathe. Take a deep breath in and then a long slow exhale… and again and again… Active calming is a game changer!

4. Validate. The most important thing is for your children to see that you’re strong enough to hold all their feelings. This is counter-intuitive to how most of us were raised. Our parents’ generation were doing their best with the skills they had, generally viewing negative feelings (angry, sad, grumpy etc) as an inconvenience that had to be squashed or otherwise the child would be spoilt.

This is usually because their parents never gave them the tools to deal with their own uncomfortable emotions. “You’re allowed to feel angry, you’re not allowed to hurt yourself and others” offers a validation with a boundary that helps children to feel safe and seen.

extend grace, to yourself and then to your child - if children could manage their big feelings on their own, they would

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5. Stop taking it personally. It’s not about you! They say it’s difficult to read the instructions when you’re stuck inside the bottle. My mantra that I repeat to myself when I’m triggered is: “This is happening in front of me, not to me”

Managing and regulating emotions is not about suppressing them, controlling them, or conforming to someone else’s idea about what we should do or feel. It’s not just about calming down. We manage emotions so that we can think clearly, make the best decisions, form and maintain healthy relationships, and experience well-being.   

Finally, extend grace, to yourself and then to your child – if children could manage their big feelings on their own, they would. Parenting small humans is certainly not for the faint hearted and just by showing up, you’re doing it!

Also read: Mental health in children

Resources:

Bailey, R. A. (2011) Managing Emotional Mayhem. Loving Guidance Inc.

Brackett, M. (2019). Permission to Feel. Quercus Publishing.

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