You might be tempted to dismiss outbursts and temper tantrums as “kids being kids,” and while emotional reactions such as crying, frustration, hunger, and pain are normal, your child never learning how to healthily manage their emotions is not. Children aren’t born knowing how to cope with their feelings, and the adults in their lives must step in and teach them.
As your child grows older, they’ll undoubtedly experience a myriad of emotions including anger, sadness, fear, joy, and shame. How you react to their correlating emotional displays will affect how they react the next time they experience a big feeling. You must teach your child healthy ways to manage their emotions without invalidating their feelings since that could stunt the development of their emotional self-regulation skills.
Coming from a two-year-old, a meltdown over having to brush their teeth might not seem like a big deal. However, if you don’t take action and teach your child how to healthily manage their emotions, it could lead to unsafe behaviors, unpredictable outbursts of anger, and prolonged mental duress. Teaching your child how to properly cope with their feelings is a big responsibility, but it’s vital to their growth and well-being that you teach them how to identify their emotions and provide a framework for healthy management.
How to Help Your Child Cope With Their Feelings
Helping your child develop self-regulation skills is the foundation of teaching them how to healthily manage their emotions. Self-regulation is the ability to manage your emotional reactions for a particular situation. An individual with self-regulation skills can calm themselves down in stressful situations, adjust to unforeseen changes, and handle frustrations without melting down.
You want to teach your kids self-regulation skills so that, as they mature, they can handle the unpredictability of the world and channel their emotions toward achieving a goal. A good place to start is showing them how to identify their feelings. Be careful not to assume that your child knows how they feel. Even children who can internally identify their feelings could have trouble articulating those emotions. Provide them with words for how they might be feeling, and be sure to let them know it is completely normal to feel angry, sad, or frustrated at times.
Depending on the age of your child, you can expand on identifying emotions and ask them what they think caused them to feel a certain way. It’s never too early to teach your kid how to look at a situation from different angles in an attempt to better understand it. With the what and why under control, you can explore different strategies to help them cope. If you’re helping your kid cope with a stressful situation like quarantine, you might try starting a new project or practicing a beloved hobby.
It’s important to teach your child a variety of different ways to healthily manage their emotions. Since every coping skill isn’t the right fit for every child, you will need to experiment. But, before you move on to something else, try a strategy several times in various situations. From drawing a picture and deep breathing to going outside for simple exercise, you can think of coping skills as four separate categories: calming, distraction, physical, and processing. As your child grows, they’ll likely need to adjust their strategies and may need your help finding new ways to manage their emotions.
When to Teach Your Kids Self-Regulation Skills
As a parent, you want to protect your child. It’s only natural. However, you shouldn’t avoid situations where your child may have to self-regulate their emotions. Several life situations can easily affect children emotionally such as the family undergoing financial hardship. Rather than sheltering your child, engage in an age-appropriate conversation and provide them with a supportive framework for processing how they’re feeling.
Even when your child is emotionally exhausted, coach them through how to deal with tough life events. If you’re simultaneously experiencing emotional exhaustion, especially because of your job, use it as an opportunity to lead by example and show your kid how you healthily manage your emotions. Strategies for coping with emotional exhaustion include practicing mindfulness, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and seeking help if you need it.
Ideally, you should spend time teaching your kids self-regulation skills when they’re feeling calm and relaxed enough to practice. Based on your child’s interests, you can encourage them to experiment with new hobbies. If possible, try out different strategies in advance so you and your child have a plan for how they will manage their emotions. A little preparation can go a long way, and with enough practice, your child won’t fall into old habits when a stressful situation arises. Consider sharing your plan with your child’s teacher or any other adults they spend significant time around.
More Tips for Helping Children Manage Their Emotions
It will require patience, but approaching your child’s impulsive, inappropriate behavior calmly will help them learn how to deal with their emotions in a socially appropriate way. Remember that your kids take cues from you as to how they should handle different situations. The way you react to their emotional displays influences and shapes how they respond in the future. Regardless of what triggered their outburst, refrain from minimizing how they’re feeling.
When you devote your full attention to teaching your child how to healthily manage their emotions, you’re validating them and their feelings. This is a chance for you to reinforce the important message that they are worthy of being understood which they can carry into adolescence and, later, adulthood. Adults who never learned how to properly cope with their feelings and didn’t have supportive adults coaching them along often react to stress in unpredictable or explosive ways.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of teaching your child how to manage their emotions healthily, know that you’re not alone. Many parents struggle to strike the right balance with their kids, and helping children learn coping skills will likely require some trial and error. However, the self-regulation skills that you teach your child today is essential for them to become a successful and well-adjusted adult.
Bio: Jori Hamilton is an experienced writer residing in the Northwestern U.S. She covers a wide range of subjects but takes a particular interest in covering topics related to child education and parenting. To learn more about Jori, you can follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.