Managing emotions can be difficult for many adults, so it comes as no surprise that kids struggle to manage their emotions and often respond to them by having outbursts or tantrums. One of the best ways to help your child manage their emotions is to talk with them about their feelings. Lashing out commonly occurs when a child doesn’t know how to express what they are feeling. Helping them understand what they are feeling and why they are feeling it, will teach them to verbalize what is wrong, rather than acting out. 

Another way you can help kids identify their emotions is for you to say things such as “It looks like you feel really sad right now.” This creates labels for their feelings and will help them associate the emotions they are having with words. When they are experiencing a negative emotion, it’s also important to let them know that what they are feeling is okay, but reacting in an aggressive or mean manner, is not.  Here are four important emotions to help your kids identify.

ANGER

Anger can be overwhelming, and for a child it’s very easy to go from angry and frustrated into a full blown tantrum if they don’t understand what’s going on. When your child gets angry, acknowledge their anger and try to help figure out what is causing it. If your child becomes aggressive, saying “I understand you’re mad, but it’s not okay to throw things” lets them know that what they are feeling is okay but their reaction is not ok. In a perfect world, you would tell your child something and they would listen.  The reality is, kids watch everything we do and they mimic that behavior. So expressing your anger in an appropriate way shows them, “Hey mom and dad get angry too!”.  They will have the opportunity to see first hand better ways to handle their anger. Teaching them coping mechanisms through your example, such as deep breathing, counting to ten, or singing a song that makes you feel happy can make a huge difference in helping your child learn to calm themselves down, before they hit a full blown tantrum.

SADNESS

Big Little Feelings says that “tantrums (and your feelings about them) are completely normal. In fact, they’re 100% biologically healthy—and mean your kiddo’s development is RIGHT ON TRACK.” Though this is not exactly what any of us want to hear, it can relieve some of the guilt that you are failing as a parent and just know you’re doing great! Meltdowns and tantrums may seem like your little one is overreacting but they occur because your little one is experiencing these BIG feelings and they are dealing with it the only way they know how. Some key ways you can help your child when they are sad is to validate their feelings, let them experience those feelings, encourage them to talk about what they are, and help create a space where they feel comforted and loved.

FEAR

Fear can be difficult to help your child cope with as those fears are not always rational. It’s important to remember that kids are experiencing things for the first time in this crazy world and trying to figure out what it all means. When your little one gets scared, the best place to start is to figure out what they are scared of. If they aren’t able to explain why they are scared, try asking questions that will help them verbalize why they are afraid. It’s best to avoid saying things like “there’s nothing to be afraid of” or “it’s not that scary” as this tells them that what they are feeling isn’t okay. A better way to approach this is to say, “it’s okay to be scared sometimes,” this can help you dive into why they are afraid. When a fear is irrational be wary of coddling them too much and saying things like “everything will be alright”, this could be interpreted as there is something to be afraid of. Make a plan to help your little one face the fear. For example, if they’re afraid of dogs a first step could be to get them a realistic stuffed toy dog. Then take multiple visits to a park where dogs are at but on leashes.  It might then be going on a playdate where the family owns a dog and seeing their friend interact with a dog in a nice way. Throughout this process, ensure your little one is still okay and reward their accomplishments as they make it through each step of the process.

JEALOUSY

Everyone deals with jealousy from time to time and as a child learning to deal with it can be a difficult task. Kids, and lets face it even some adults, haven’t quite grasped the concept that not everything in life is fair and equal. While jealousy doesn’t always make sense, the most important thing we can teach our children is that feeling jealous is okay but behaving inappropriately because of jealousy is not.   It’s an emotion we all experience so helping children learn to acknowledge and deal with it is essential. One of the ways we can help kids deal with jealousy is to encourage kids to find their own strengths and talents.  Make an effort not to compare your kids to other children, as this can easily lead to jealousy, self doubt, and a damaged self esteem. Talking with your child about times you have experienced jealousy and how you worked through it can also help them feel validated and understand that it is normal but not something to dwell on.

There is no perfect equation to parenting, what works for one child may not work on another and some days will be harder than others. The next time your little one is experiencing one of these big emotions and it feels like they are overreacting, remember that they are responding the best way they know how.  So take a deep breath, listen to them, and help them talk through what they are feeling and when possible lead by example.