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The Foolproof Way to Manage Your Child’s Big Feelings

August 19, 2022

The Foolproof Way to Manage Your Child’s Big Feelings

Emotions as they are are hard to tackle as adults, so what more for your kids who are just starting to understand who they are? Children can find it difficult to process their feelings, much less express them, which may cause them—and you—quite a bit of stress.

Don’t worry, that’s normal. However, you also have to understand that you and your little one are on this journey together. In this article, we will discuss big emotions in toddlers  and how you can both come to terms with them and properly process them.

Questions and topics that we’ll discuss will include:

     • What are considered big emotions in kids? 
     • What triggers big emotions in toddlers?
     • How to help a child with big emotions
     • Big emotions and you: Setting boundaries and examples
     • The benefits of helping your child face big feelings


What are considered big emotions in kids?

In truth, the big emotions that your children are just starting to understand are the same ones that you face as an adult, only in your case, you already have coping mechanisms in place. According to BeyondBlue.org.au, babies and toddlers often start with basic feelings, which include anger, fear, sadness, and joy. As they continually experience these, they become more complex, which makes it all the more important to be able to process big emotions vs. small emotions before they get too intense to manage.  

At a very young age, your child may not yet be able to express and understand what they feel, and this may result in them getting overwhelmed. As a parent, it may be hard for you to understand what your little one is going through during these moments of big feelings, but they will need your patience and support to be able to slowly get used to them and recognize them when they come around. 


What triggers big emotions in toddlers?

Your child having a hard time processing and expressing big emotions can lead to tantrums and meltdowns. According to a Child Mind Institute article by editorial director Caroline Miller, tantrums are milder than meltdowns, and sometimes may even resolve on their own. Meltdowns, however, occur  when your child totally loses control and is unable to calm down unless you or another guardian interferes. Anger is a common trigger of both, which may erupt when things don’t go their way, or when objects and experiences are withheld from them without them understanding why.

Miller continues to explain that anxiety is another trigger for big emotions that create outbursts. Anxiety is rooted in fear, and whether or not the fear is unfounded, it would take a trusted person like you to calm your child down and reestablish their safe space.

On the flipside, joy is also a big emotion and one that can cause excitement! You’ll need to watch out for overexcitement though, as it means that your child may also get overwhelmed and might have a hard time controlling their behaviors and actions. When this happens, you can try shifting their focus. Offering a distraction enables them to activate their senses and channel their energies into something else—such as an item with an interesting texture they can touch or an activity that needs their full attention—or you can invite them to take a few calming breaths, which can help break their momentum. 

A little boy crying helplessly as he is carried.

It's not easy for little kids to understand why they feel so big on the inside. They need your help to process this.


How to help a child with big emotions

Children offer cues to what they’re feeling, but these can be difficult to decipher and may both become stressful and frustrating for you. It’s quite easy to fall into the trap of meeting your child with some big emotions of your own, but the key to helping them come to terms with what they’re feeling is to come to terms with what you’re feeling, too. You need to meet their intensity with calm and loving patience, like how a breakwater turns strong waves gentler.

It is during tantrums and meltdowns that you can practice the best of balanced parenting. Balanced parenting is being warm and supportive of your child while also applying gentle discipline—which relies on mutual respect instead of authoritarian principles—when needed. 

Through balanced parenting and gentle discipline, you can slowly introduce emotion regulation to your little one. An article on VeryWellFamily.com explains that emotion regulation really depends on your child’s development. It’s possible that they may find it difficult to deal with feelings when they’re younger than 36 months old. You can, however, ease them into recognizing where they’re at. This can improve their self-awareness and allow them to socialize more easily, which can be a huge help once they start schooling. 

To introduce your child to big feelings and help them process them, here are a few tips you can follow:

     1. Acknowledge what is going on with your child. It’s easy to subscribe to neglectful parenting or uninvolved parenting when your kid is often going through meltdowns. This will not only make problems worse, but it can also cause damage that will affect them for years to come.

Instead, try to ask your child what they feel is happening. Allow them to become familiar with their emotions so that they can recognize and get used to them, while you’re there to provide security they can rely on. From here, you and your child can agree on what to do next time in case such emotions become too overwhelming. This kind of self-awareness will be a big help to them as they get older.

     2. Learn the power of breathing. Breathing is a pause button. Measured breaths can go a long way in calming your child and helping them mentally and physically slow down. It works wonders for grown-ups, too!

     3. Guide your child with grounding exercises. When your child is anxious and overwhelmed, you can apply grounding exercises such as the 54321 Coping Technique. This can help reduce anxiety by asking your child to list down five items they can see, four items they can touch, three things they can hear, two things they can smell, and one thing they can taste. Mindfully activating your child’s senses can help them return to the moment so they focus on the present instead of on the whirlwind in their mind.

     4. Explain the difference between emotions and behaviors. Emotions affect behaviors. When your child slowly gets used to explaining what they’re feeling, you can help them understand that having big feelings is okay. You should also explain to them that it’s also important to be aware of how they react to them and how their behaviors affect themselves and others. The truth is that no child wants to throw a tantrum or have a meltdown–they simply don’t know how to react to what’s boiling inside of them just yet. With your guidance, you can help them identify what they’re feeling, understand what triggered it, and think of a healthy way to deal with them. 

A mom and her toddler happily playing with toys together.

Connecting with your little one builds their trust in you to help them through distressing moments.


Big emotions and you: Setting boundaries and examples

As a parent, you will become your child’s role model of all that is right and good. They’re constantly watching and learning from you, and the way you handle highly-emotional situations becomes the template for how they’ll handle similar circumstances as they grow. 

This is why you yourself will need to practice emotional self-regulation. Many adults still struggle with this, especially if it hasn’t been stressed during their childhood. The good news is, it’s never too late to get started. A huge part of self-regulation is thinking before you act. Consider your next steps and how these can affect your situation and your relationships in the future.

Self-regulation also means setting boundaries, and the value of having boundaries is something that you can discuss with your child. Tied with consequences, boundaries can help them understand that when they do something, there’s always a corresponding action or result that follows, whether for good or for bad.

As an example, if you and your child are processing their recent tantrum, you can ask questions like “Why did you do that?” or “Do you know what happened when you did that?” with a goal of understanding the reasons for their actions and turning the situation into a teachable moment. Gently lead them through the process of identifying their feelings, acknowledging them, and adjusting how they react to them. This can go hand-in-hand with gentle discipline, which can help reinforce boundaries and the concept of consequences without resorting to making your child feel humiliated or shamed.  


The benefits of helping your child face big feelings

Teaching your child to face their big feelings at an early age can help them become emotionally and mentally balanced individuals. Aside from knowing how to self-regulate, they will also understand that it’s okay to feel things, whether it’s anger, frustration, sadness, and joy, and that there’s nothing shameful about talking about them. 

Processing big feelings with your little one can also prepare them to deal with more complex emotions as adults. Children’s Health notes that doing so helps your child create a “‘toolkit of healthy responses”, making them more resilient and equipping them with a number of coping strategies that can protect their overall well-being. 

Lastly, being open about feelings with your child can teach them about empathy and compassion. A child that recognizes their own emotions will grow up acknowledging other people’s emotions. When they get older, they’ll turn out to be happily balanced and well-adjusted human beings. This will allow them to be more flexible towards other people without sacrificing their personal boundaries, and help them create lasting relationships that are based on trust, respect, and openness—and it all starts with your patience in understanding your child’s big feelings. 

Two adorable toddlers calmly playing with big, round toys together.

Having a sibling helps children learn how to share, to be compassionate, and to be more sensitive to the needs and happiness of others.

Does your little one need to take a breather? Initiating habits, such as flossing, is a good grounding technique your child can rely on when they’re feeling overwhelmed by huge emotions. Pick Piico and help them through their feelings on their daily dental habits!