All kids at some point have big feelings, feelings they will likely need some help to manage. As children develop and grow, they will inevitably face a variety of challenges and emotions, and helping our children manage big feelings is important in their emotional development. In order to effectively manage these emotions and build resilience, it is important that we provide them with the tools and support they need.
At the heart of emotional self-regulation lies strong, warm, and responsive relationships with our children. We aren’t born with the ability to regulate our emotions, it’s a skill we learn over time. For the adults in their lives, big feelings can look like a tantrum, a meltdown, or simply being overwhelmed. Whatever the form, it can be difficult to watch our children struggle.
Helping our children learn to self-regulate is a crucial but at times tricky task. Whether it is providing a safe space for children to express their emotions or teaching them relaxation techniques, there are many ways that we can support children as they navigate their feelings. With the right guidance and support,
One of the most important things we can do for children is provide a supportive and nurturing environment where they feel loved and valued. When children have caring relationships with adults, they are better able to regulate their emotions, build resilience, and navigate life’s ups and downs. This means spending time with your children, listening attentively to them, showing empathy when they’re struggling, and being there for them during difficult times.
It’s vital not to judge their emotions in the moment. While it’s tempting to try to stop the meltdown, it’s better in the longterm to let children feel all of their emotions. This doesn’t mean you need to be a doormat, but rather that you provide understanding and support. For example, you might say something like, “I can see that you’re feeling really angry right now. It’s OK to be angry, and I’m here for you.”
Praise your kids for talking about their feelings, and expressing them in a healthy way. Listen carefully, and give them a space to be heard.
One of the best things you can do to help your children regulate their emotions is to model self-regulation yourself. When children see the adults in their lives managing big feelings in healthy ways, it helps them learn how to do the same. So the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a deep breath and model calm for your children. It’s ok for them to see you angry, or upset, it’s what you do with that emotion that becomes the teachable moment.
Books can help, and there are a great variety out there to support children to identify their feelings and figure out what to do with them. Have a chat with your local librarian or bookseller to see what options they recommend, or ask other parents what’s worked for them.
Here’s a list of a few popular ones:
My Many Colored Days by Dr Seuss
The Way I Feel by Janan Cain
It’s OK To Feel The Way I Do by Josh Langley
The Feelings Book by Todd Parr
Mindfulness can really help children to manage their big feelings. By focusing on their breath and staying in the present moment, children can learn to soothe and calm themselves when they’re feeling overwhelmed. There are many great mindfulness activities that you can try with your children, such as guided meditations or colouring pages that focus on breathing. Once they’re old enough, journaling is a great mindfulness activity that can help kids to identify and work through big emotions, especially as social relationships become more complex.
Your Needs are Important Too
Coping strategies are important for your child, but also for YOU. As a parent, it can be difficult to watch your children struggle with big emotions, and harder still to cope with helping them to regulate them, often at the most difficult moments for you. Self-care is important here, and while it can be tough to carve out time for yourself, it’ll help you keep your balance. Self-care options could look like meditating, writing in a journal, going for a walk, spending time with friends, or time alone, but the most important thing is finding something that works for you. And remember, if you need to talk to someone, you can reach Lifeline on 13 11 14, or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636.
Want to know more? Our sister organisation, WA Centre for Perinatal Mental Health and Parenting Support runs regular workshops on this and other topics to help you parent better. Women’s Health and Wellbeing Services also run workshops and events to support women’s health. Check it out on our website or Facebook.