We’ve all seen it.
A child screaming in the store because their father won’t buy them a toy.
A brother getting angry and hitting his sibling.
A student giving up out of frustration.
Or even, a little girl crying uncontrollably because her mother has told her it’s time to leave the park.
These instances, and those like it, can be frustrating for many parents. Learning to navigate each stage of a child’s emotional development is not easy. But, while at times it may seem daunting, it is important that parents learn to become emotional coaches for their children.
Research shows that a parent’s ability to properly manage their own emotions – and those of their children – may have major effects on a child’s physical health, emotional well-being and even academic achievement. A study by the University of Washington Seattle found that as parents teach their children to positively manage their emotions, the children have less stress, less behavioral issues, have longer attention spans and do better in school.
Luckily, you don’t have to be a psychologist or have a degree in child development to assume the role of “emotional coach.” There are many practical things parents can do to help their children become emotionally skilled – and with a big payoff. Emotionally skilled children become mature, emotionally responsible adults who do better in almost every facet of life.
10 Ways to Help Kids Manage Their Emotions
Here are 10 ways parents can help their children positively manage their emotions. These tips can be applied from the early toddler years all the way through adolescence.
- Express, don’t repress
A major step in helping children effectively manage their emotions is to teach them to express and examine their feelings rather than repressing or denying them. When we do this, we allow our children to understand their emotions and then learn acceptable ways to show, communicate or cope with them.
- Reflect back
Part of creating a loving and accepting environment for children to discuss their feelings involves listening and then reflecting the feeling back to the child. Instead of telling a child they should not feel a certain way, it is better to reflect the emotion using vocabulary for an appropriate expression of the feeling. For example, instead of saying “Don’t say you don’t like your sister!” a parent could say “It’s sounds like you are angry with your sister right now. Can you tell me what you are feeling?” This approach encourages the child to talk about the feeling and explore options for dealing with it in a positive way.
- Ask questions
Another way to help children analyze their emotions is by asking questions that will encourage them to solve the problem that is causing the feeling. Instead of saying, “Don’t be a cry baby – it’s not that big of a deal,” a parent can say “I understand you are upset, but what would be a better response?” It is important to help children understand that they have a choice in how they behave and express emotions.
- Show empathy
Feelings that are acknowledged and accepted often lose their destructive power. That’s why it is important to show empathy for what a child may be feeling. It’s also important to remember that sometimes anger is expressed as a result of fear. In these situations, parents should focus on understanding 1) what the child is afraid of and 2) how they can assist him or her in confronting that fear.
- Set a good example
Maybe the most important thing a parent can do to help their child manage their feelings is to set a good example. Since children often mimic their parents’ behavior, it is crucial to model appropriate emotional control. By handling our own emotions properly, we teach our kids to do the same.
In addition to the above “big picture” items, there are plenty of practical things parents can do to help kids deal with emotions, particularly difficult emotions like anger or fear. These allow a child to vent their frustrations without causing harm to others or themselves.
- Have your child take a deep breath
A great way to diffuse a child’s anger or frustration is to have him or her pause and take a deep breath. This simple action helps the child to calm down and relax, providing extra oxygen and reducing tension. It also puts the child in a better state to discuss what they are feeling and listen to a parent’s guidance.
- Encourage activity
Exercise has many benefits and our emotional health is one of them. When a child exercises, the body produces endorphins that reduce stress. If your child is upset, frustrated or even sad, try taking them on a fast-paced walk or taking them to play their favorite sport.
- Have your child take a break
If you sense your child is approaching explosive behavior, having him or her take a short time-out from whatever is bothering them can help the child calm down and respond rationally. It also creates a safe place for the child to breath and even discuss the situation with a parent.
- Encourage the child to talk to someone they trust
If a child is not comfortable expressing their emotions to their parent, it is important to allow the child to talk to someone else you both trust. This could be a counselor, teacher, pastor or someone else who can help the child positively release and process the emotion without passing judgement on the child.
- Provide safe outlets for venting
In some cases, when a child really needs to release a difficult emotion, it can be helpful to allow them to vent their feelings in a safe way. An example might be punching a boxing bag or pillow. By doing this, it shows a child that their emotions, while difficult, don’t have to be destructive.
Going through these steps consistently with your child can make a big difference in their habits. By coaching them to manage their emotions appropriately, we teach them to become confident in their ability to manage their feelings and solve many of their own problems – a major factor in their future and overall success in life.
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