The moment a baby is born every person in the room falls silent waiting in anticipation for that
first cry of discomfort. A signal that they are not as content as they were moments before.
Somehow that first cry is music to our ears but as our kids grow older we quickly notice our
excitement turn to dread and frustration as emotions grow.
Just as infants are signaling to their parents that they are having a hard time, our children and
teens are letting us know through emotion, behavior, and speech that things are difficult and
they may need some support navigating the experience. As parents we try our best to help
them navigate those moments but even with many years of practice under our belt we often
struggle. The good news is there are some steps to take to help support our kids as they
navigate coping with big emotion.
Name It, To Tame It
Dr. Dan Seigel teaches that helping kids, teens, and adults label their
emotions is the first step in learning to cope. When we know what type of problem we are
dealing with we know what types of tools to use to work through it. Sometimes we can’t, or
won’t, find the right words but we can gesture by making a face, drawing a picture, or writing
down the emotion we are feeling in the moment. As your child is learning to express
themselves you can verbally check in with them on what you’re seeing. For example, it looks
like you are feeling very angry and disappointed, is that correct? It’s okay to let them know
you’re ready to support them, they may take a few minutes to breathe before they are ready to
tell you, rather than show you, what they’re feeling.
Increase Emotional Dialogue in the Home
Emotions are everywhere and the more we begin to
notice them during more mild time the less overwhelming they will feel, even when they are
full force. Talk about your own feelings. Help kids label the emotions of characters in books,
movies, and experiences with peers, by looking at facial cues, body language, and speech. Make
emotional check in’s part of everyday conversation and make sure to use the words we mean.
Often we only say “mad” when what we are really feeling is a mix of emotion, “mad and sad,
disappointed, and frustrated”.
Build a Tool Box of Calm Down Skills
As we first start supporting emotion recognition and
regulation with our kids we may have to provide some options of calm down tools. Offer ideas
that have worked for you personally and show them how it’s done (deep breathing, squish clay,
scream in a pillow, sip cold water). As they begin to build mastery remind them of effective
tools they have used in the past and offer lots of verbal praise as they remember to practice.
Manage Your Own Emotions
One of the best ways for kids to learn about emotion regulation is
through observation. When as the parent you feel your emotions are starting to boil over it’s
not only appropriate, but often helpful for all parties, for your child to see you working to calm
yourself. You don’t have to lock the door or shut yourself away from view to work through your
Remember to Review and Repair
Despite trying to use all the skills above at times we fall
short. The great news is one of the best things we can teach our kids about managing emotions
is to learn to say sorry and take responsibility for our behavior. For example modeling with a
statement like, “I’m sorry I yelled. I’m going to take some calm down breaths then we can talk
about what we can both do different next time”, is a powerful teaching tool for making a
change when our emotions already have begun to run away from us. Show them how to repair
and problem solve together what can be done differently in the future to help everyone
One of the last pieces to remember is that the best tool for improvement is practice. What may
seem like failure along the way is really just a chance learn about what does and doesn’t work,
for you and your child. Be patient with yourself, you are all moving in the right direction.