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5 Steps for coping with "big feelings" from a Mental Health Specialist

Helping Your Child Manage Angry Feelings

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Being a parent is often a rewarding experience, however it also comes with challenges. One of the struggles parents of toddlers often experience is dealing with their child’s big emotions, especially anger. When a young child becomes angry, they often engage in negative behaviors such as hitting, screaming, or throwing things. Although we want to curb this behavior, we also need to help children deal with the emotions that are fueling this behavior. If we only address the behavior by punishing or ignoring it, then we don’t get the opportunity to help them learn to cope with their emotions in a positive manner.

Here are some important steps to help your child learn effective ways to cope when upset:

1) Take a deep breath and remain calm, remember their behavior is a form of communication. Remind yourself, “my child is struggling right now with a big emotion and they need my help.”

2) Label their emotion, this will help them have a word for their “big feeling”. Eventually they will begin to connect the word with the feeling in their body.

3) Set the limit but also give an alternative action that would be an appropriate response.

4) Offer support in helping your child calm their “big feeling”. This may be done through a hug, deep breathing exercise, or even sitting with your child in a calm place and just being present with them.

5) Once your child has calmed down then you can work on problem solving. It is not effective to try to reason, negotiate, or problem solve with your child during a meltdown or temper tantrum. When they are in this heightened state of emotion, they can’t hear your voice of reason.

Here is what this may sound like. “You were angry your brother took your toy, you may not hit, let’s take a few deep breaths together to calm down and then I can help you get your toy back.”

Changing a pattern of how we address our child’s emotions takes practice and consistency. However, this will pay off in the long run by building the skills your child needs to deal with these strong emotions in an effective way in the future.

Written by: Cindie Silmon, LCMFT, RPT – Mental Health Specialist