No matter what, your child will come to a time where they have an emotion that is too big for them to handle. Whether they’re experiencing their first big loss, having their first argument with a friend, or are overwhelmed with their schoolwork, they will have these blow-out emotions from time to time.
Of course, this happens to adults, too, but we have learned throughout a lifetime of experience how to manage these big emotions. The impact of these emotions is much larger for children, especially if it’s their first time experiencing an emotion that intensely. Here are a few ways you can help your child through the intense experience:
- Address and name the emotion. When your child is wrapped up in the moment, they aren’t ready to solve the problem, yet. You need to acknowledge what they are feeling and help them name it. This can be harder for younger children if they don’t have the vocabulary to describe their feelings, so they will especially need your help labeling the feeling. You can say something like, “I understand you’re feeling angry” or “It sounds like you are very sad right now.” Naming the emotion helps your child deal with it from the start.
- Try a grounding activity. A common way to help anyone calm themselves down–children and adults–is to ground themselves by using the five senses. Try guiding your child to identify five things they can see, four things they can hear, three things they can touch, two things they can smell, and one thing they can taste. This shifts their focus and allows their brain to solve a simple problem as a distraction from whatever big emotion they are having. You can also ask them to count or name things in the area, like counting the ceiling tiles or describing the paintings on the wall.
- Develop your child’s sense of self-awareness. A helpful way for your child to deal with their big emotions is for them to already practice when they are calm or having smaller versions of these emotions. In calm, quiet moments, work with your child to help them identify when they tend to get upset and how they can tell if their emotions are rising. Once your child is familiar with their own signs of emotional arousal, they can practice self-regulation skills before their emotions get out of hand, such as with deep breathing exercises or removing themselves from a bad situation.
Preventing these blown-up emotions are a big part of dealing with them in the first place. Teach your child how to calm themselves in lower-intensity situations, but also don’t be afraid to comfort them as well. Especially if your child is having their first major emotional experience, it can be confusing and even frightening for them because they don’t understand what’s happening or how to fix it. It’s up to you to reassure them that everything will be ok and that you are there to help them through it, so be patient and understanding, even if it’s challenging.1