Some kids experience things more intensely than others. Fear, anger, stress, sadness, and joy can be amplified in more sensitive children.
Such big emotions can make life difficult for everyone unless children are given the tools to learn to self-regulate.
Self-regulation or emotional regulation is mostly dependent on the child’s age and development. Typically, most kids can begin to learn to regulate their emotions by the time they enter preschool.
As a parent, it is normal to struggle with and feel overwhelmed by our little one’s emotions.
Here are eight real mum tricks on how to handle our little kid’s very big emotions without losing your mind.
8 Real Mum Tricks to Teaching Emotional Regulation
1. Help them understand the difference between feelings and behaviours
It’s very important to help little ones understand the difference between feelings and behaviours.
First, show them all emotions are okay to have. There are no ‘negative’ or ‘bad’ emotions. Everyone is entitled to feel whatever they want without judgment or shame.
Normalising all feelings allows children to be able to sit with them, label them, and learn how to handle them.
It is not okay, however, to act upon those emotions. They should understand that it is okay to be upset or angry that their cousin took their favourite action figure without asking, but it is not okay to hit or bite them because of it.
They can also be sad they can’t have that toy they’re begging for at the store, but it is not okay to throw themselves on the floor or scream in public because they’re not getting what they want.
And when it comes to discipline, focus on the behaviour, not the feelings they’re having. The consequences should be connected to their bad behaviour.
2. Label and validate their feelings, then relate
Help your child label their emotions when they’re experiencing big feelings, especially since they won’t always have the words to go along with them.
Tell them when you notice they’re mad, sad, happy, embarrassed, or disappointed and support them by telling them you understand why they feel the way they do. You don’t have to excuse it, just notice it.
Then, go a little further and express how sometimes you feel the same way. Doing so helps them realise everyone feels those same emotions sometimes.
It’ll also help them see that emotions don’t last forever and that we can have many, many emotions throughout the day.
3. Don’t shelter them
You know your child better than anyone. And sometimes, you’ll want to protect them from things or situations that can trigger those intense emotions.
Although there will be times when you’re justified to protect them from things or events that may not be age-appropriate, it is also important to challenge them and trust they’ll learn from each experience.
Sheltering them from difficult situations will only prevent them from developing the coping tools they’ll need to meet life’s challenges.
I know it’s tough, but you can do it! Even if it’s one small step at a time.
4. Avoid reinforcing outbursts
When your kiddo experiences some very big emotions and can calm down on their own, you may feel so proud of them that you may want to reward them.
However, children are smart and they may start throwing a tantrum just to pull themselves together in the hope of a special treat or reward.
Similarly, if you shower them with attention during a meltdown or bad behaviour, they’ll start to think that’s how they can get you to notice them.
Of course, you want to offer comfort and love, but you don’t want to overdo it.
5. Have a calm down kit or calm down corner
While you do not want to tell your kiddo to calm down or stop crying while they’re experiencing intense emotions, you do want to provide the space and time for them to settle themselves.
You can create a ‘calm down kit’ with items you know can help them relax or cheer up. You can even include them in creating their kit.
The kit can include colouring books, a sensory bottle with glitter or sand, books, fidget toys, or anything that engages their senses to help them regulate their emotions, preferably no screens.
Unlike a time-out corner, a ‘calm down corner’ is a place where they can go to relax and self-soothe. It can include their calm-down kit, soothing music, their favourite blanket, or plushies.
The point is to take a break, take deep breaths, and use their preferred tools to help them self-regulate.
6. Mid-tantrum is not a teachable moment
Share your calm. No, it is not the easiest thing in the world to remain calm when your kiddo is having a meltdown, believe me.
But the best thing you can do for your child when they’re experiencing intense emotions is to share your calm, not contribute to the chaos.
Recently, my 8-year-old was playing with his Magnatiles. He loves building intricate structures and on this particular occasion was trying to build a dome that kept falling apart. After several attempts, he lost it and started screaming. I swear he could be heard down the street.
As tough as it was, I remained quiet and sat with him in his frustration. Once he calmed down, he tried again. I asked if I could help and together we figured it out. Afterwards, we were able to talk about it.
It takes A LOT of self-discipline to remain calm. But your kiddo will appreciate it.
You cannot teach someone to swim while they’re drowning. You have to let them calm down, then you can teach, talk, brainstorm, etc.
7. Help identify triggers
Having clear expectations and consistent routines can help avoid dysregulation and meltdowns. Keep rules short, however, to ensure they are followed.
When changes are inevitable, provide advanced warnings or introduce transitions that can make things smoother for them.
If your child has issues complying with requests, then give them a couple of options to avoid power struggles. This will give them a sense of control.
Planning for issues or potential triggers in advance can save you lots of headaches. You can even discuss possible triggers with your child and come up with coping strategies together.
If they’re fearful of fireworks and don’t want to attend an event, maybe provide them with sound-cancelling headphones or earplugs to help them still be part of the event.
8. Model emotional regulation
Children learn by what you do, not what you say.
If they hear you talking about your feelings, giving yourself a break to calm down, and being compassionate with yourself when you experience big emotions, they will too.
You can even pretend to struggle with something, like opening a jar, just so you can model how to calm yourself and strategize a solution.
If you’re sad or mad, show them how you handle those intense emotions. It will go a long way in teaching them to self-regulate.
Remember it is normal to become overwhelmed with your little one’s big emotions.
While we may not always handle things perfectly, with these practical, real mum tricks on how to handle your little one’s very big emotions, you can be sure you’re doing your best every day.
Show yourself some compassion on the tough days. You’ve got this!