Calming Big Emotions

Blog Kathie Sarles

All young children have big emotions. We can see these big emotions and experience them first hand when our children tantrum or have meltdowns. Our children, however, don’t often know that they are experiencing emotions. What they do know is how they feel: bad! The overwhelming feeling of a strong emotion that begins deep inside and needs to come out is scary for children. Letting them know that we all have emotions, naming them and allowing them to understand that the feeling will pass, will help those emotions calm sooner. Ignoring or minimizing the emotion is not helpful and may in fact create confusion which will lead to more emotions.

Then how can we as parents help our children when the big emotions come? Christie Burnett editor of Childhood 101 reminds us that, “Often it is when our children are having the most trouble keeping their cool that we also lose ours. Being prepared with a strategy for helping children through those times when they are experiencing big or overwhelming emotions such as anger, frustration, jealousy or embarrassment, is one way to help both you and them to work through those emotions more effectively.”

First, we can start during a relatively calm time of day and add a strategy that may help when the big emotions strike. Mindfulness breathing is a technique that works with all ages. Jon Kabat- Zinn a researcher form U.Mass Medical Center often considered the father of stress management in adults, has many techniques that can be adapted for our children. Remember our children want to be like us… so if we are calm in times of turmoil they will be more apt to do that as well. Conversely, when we allow our emotions to control us, our children may find regulation more difficult.

Families can create a calm down area that is soft, quiet and safe for the entire family. Parents can model their calming techniques like:

  • Slow breathing: Take 4 or 5 deep breaths through your nose and exhale out your mouth. Do this obviously 2x a day; explaining that you are taking calming breaths. Your children will try to imitate you, and when they need to calm down they will have practiced this type of breathing. Try exhaling like a snake or a bee or pretend to blow out birthday candles to motivate your child to try!
  • Positive thoughts (no judgments): Say, “I am the best parent I can be!” or “ There is no behavior I can change but my own.” Or “ I am capable of doing this!” ( don’t allow those nagging doubts to creep in as you say this to yourself.)
  • Using mind jars, and or calming objects that help us center our bodies and regulate our emotions.
  • Incorporate yoga poses daily to help you calm/ watch as your child tries too!

These strategies practiced over time will help everyone attend more, react less and problem solve after the emotional turmoil ends. The goal is to lessen the effect of the big emotions, not end them. Emotions are beneficial to building social emotional competence.

Young children can learn to better regulate, but will continue to have big emotions. For them the calming spot will offer a safe place to allow the emotion to rise and fall and learn that it will eventually calm. Parents will be there to help build understanding.