5 tips for managing your child’s big feelings

by Mandy Herold
5 tips for managing your child’s big feelings
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If you’re having trouble naming how you’re feeling, you are not alone! Most of us were not taught emotional literacy, and we may not practice labelling our feelings in everyday life enough. But this is a tool we can learn and teach our kids too, says BYY expert, The Connection Coach, Mandy Herold.

How are you? How are you feeling? What’s up? So often when we are asked these type of questions, we tend to express how we are feeling with just a few words, like “good,” “fine,” “busy,” and “okay.”

Just like maths and science have their own unique vocabularies, emotions have a language of their own. When we have more words to describe our feelings, we are better able to understand them and communicate them to others. When we can identify specifically what we’re feeling, we’re also in a better place to do something about it.

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 aids a child’s mental health and also physical well-being, as both are inextricably linked. So when it comes to helping our children manage their big feelings there is an integral factor that is often overlooked: parents need to manage our feeling before we can help our children manage theirs.

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.

Read: Signs your stress levels are dangerously high

Here are the 5 top tips:

  1. Identify the triggers. In order to effectively manage triggers, you need to first identity them… whining, eye rolling, being cheeky, sulking… the list goes on and on. And what are your child’s triggers?
  2. Name the feeling… Name it to tame it . Start with: “I/You seem ______” then take our best educated guess at how you/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 the unpleasant emotions that leave us feeling unhinged.
  3. Breathe – After you’ve named the feeling, take a few deep breaths with your child to calm those little (& 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 that were available to them and they generally viewed feeling (angry, sad, grumpy) as an inconvenience that had to be “squashed” or otherwise the child would be “spoilt”. Say something like: “You’re allowed to feel angry, you’re not allowed to hurt yourself and others” is an example of a validation with a boundary that helps children to feel safe and seen.
  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. I have a mantra that I repeat to myself when I’m triggered “This is happening in front of me, not to me”. It’s a good lesson to model for your kids.

Click for: Mom confessions- the ugly truth

Managing our 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.

Five Ways to Respond to Your Kids' Big FeelingsFinally extend grace and compassion, to yourself first, 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!

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

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

Also read: A guide to supporting your teens through exams
Visit: 5 tips to help you stay present

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