Managing Big Emotions in Little Kids

Mother and young daughter do Yoga.


Sometimes kids have big emotions. And that is okay. Anger, sadness, and worry are an integral part of the human experience. If we are consistently hushing strong emotions, we are sending the message that those feelings are not okay. They are okay and they can be normal. Instead of getting frustrated telling them not to cry or scream, why don’t we teach them ways they can deal with and discharge those emotions?

Use your breath

The simplest way to manage uncomfortable feelings is to trick your body into thinking that it is calm. Deep breaths with long exhales activate the “rest and digest” (parasympathetic) nervous system. This system is the counterbalance to the “fight or flight” (sympathetic) nervous system. In kids, offering a visual helps them to grasp the idea of these breaths and turns it into more of a game.

Try these:

  • Rainbow Breathing: Start with your finger on the bottom of an imaginary rainbow in front of you. As you breathe in, trace your finger slowly along the arch. When you reach the other side, blow out your breath as you trace your finger back over to the other side. Repeat until your body feels calm.
  • Birthday Cake Breaths: Imagine there is a birthday cake in front of you. Breathe in deeply to smell the cake. Blow out slowly to blow out the candles. Repeat 3-5 times or until you feel calm.
  • Bee Breathing: Breathe in deeply counting to 5. Breathe out slowly buzzing like a bee until you’ve let all of your air out. Repeat this 3-5 times.

Build a Coping Bag

A Coping Bag is a tool kit to have ready at any time that overwhelming emotions come up. This is great for kids and adults! Instead of telling kids what to stop doing, coping bags provide options for what they can do. Check out this short video on how to build a coping bag:

Strike a pose

Sometimes getting out of your head and into your body is the quickest way to dispel negative feelings. Try these yoga poses to calm your body:

  • Tree Pose: I am firmly rooted in this moment. Like a tall, strong tree, I have roots.
  • Plank: I feel my hands and feet connect to the room. I am strong and powerful.
  • Boat Pose: I can handle the swaying tide. I float on like a boat with a forward direction.
  • Namaste Pose: I am grateful for my body. I can use stretches to calm my body and mind.


When distressing thoughts threaten to overpower you or your child, this trick can calm overactive brains and ground them in the present.


  • 5 things you can see
  • 4 things you can hear
  • 3 things you can feel
  • 2 things you can smell
  • 1 thing you can taste

Grounding in the present moment does wonders in dispelling worries about the future or sadness from the past. You can do this with your eyes closed to remember a calmer time—a favorite vacation for example. This can also help when you have a nervous child that needs immunizations or another medical procedure.

Try these tips and tricks with your child the next time they feel out of control with big emotions! Remember, kids learn best through imitation; modeling these techniques when you feel overwhelmed can have a bigger impact than just telling them what to do. Big feelings are normal and natural, but they sometimes threaten to interfere with healthy functioning. Teaching and modeling ways to manage these emotions is a skill that will help your kids throughout their life.

Kristi Cox, PA

Kristi Cox, PA

Kristi practices pediatrics in our Riverton office.

a happy father receives a kiss from his son

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