Three ways to help your child manage emotions

Written by Eliza Huie
Published on June 02, 2023

“Stop crying!” 

“You’re overreacting.” 

“There’s nothing to be so upset about.” 

“Why don’t you just calm down?”

Every parent has said things like this before. It is usually in response to a child whose emotions have gotten the best of them. In our own frustration, we can express our own emotional overwhelm, but when the situation passes, we are left feeling like we want to do better. Whether it’s a temper tantrum, an emotional meltdown, or a common expression of sadness, anger, or fear, it can be difficult to know how to best support our young ones in these moments. We want to help our children know how to better respond when they are feeling upset or distressed. We want to point them to the Lord who is our help and our peace. Every parent needs direction with this. Here are three helpful options to calm your child when they are feeling emotionally overwhelmed. 

1. Validate their feelings.

When your child is upset, it’s important to let them know their feelings matter and you want to support them. Validating does not mean you agree with what they are feeling or how they are expressing those feelings. Instead, it is assuring them you are aware of how they are feeling. Doing so communicates that they matter and it is normal to have emotions. This can be as simple as saying, “I know you’re feeling really sad right now,” or “I can tell you’re really angry.” By acknowledging their feelings, you’re helping your child to feel heard and understood, which can go a long way in helping them to calm down. Emotions are not intrinsically wrong or sinful. Validating their feelings is an avenue to teach your child that God made us with emotions—which means we can be honest with God about them. 

2. Give them space.

Often parents can unintentionally add to the emotional overwhelm by pressing the child to correct their emotional response. But just like grownups, when children are feeling upset, they may need a little space to process their emotions. This might mean giving them a few minutes alone to cry or think on it, or it might mean allowing them to retreat to their room for a bit. Parents can encourage their children to step away and talk to God about their feelings. They can allow the space to be a time for the child to focus on something other than what is upsetting them. Children may not know how to process their emotions, but the space can give them an opportunity for natural de-escalation to take place. Giving space can also allow you to consider how best to respond to the emotional outbursts. Whatever the case may be, giving your child space can help them to gain some control of themselves and help reduce their level of emotional distress.

3. Offer a comforting activity. 

Sometimes when children are feeling upset, they need a little extra comfort to help them calm down. This might mean cuddling with a favorite stuffed animal or blanket, or engaging in a calming activity like coloring, reading a story, listening to music, or taking some deep breaths. You can pair a hopeful Scripture or phrase about God with deep breathing. Instruct them to breathe in while saying in their mind, “God help me . . .” and as they exhale, they can say in their mind, “ . . .to rest in you.” Not only do kids need outlets like this, but so do parents. Doing these exercises together helps provide an opportunity to direct your child’s attention to the Lord, and it reminds them God is an ever-present help for them in troubled times (Ps. 46:1).

It’s important to remember every child is different, and what works for one child might not work for another. You will have to try various approaches to find the best way to support your child when they are feeling upset. But the three options shared above are a great place to start. Also, helping your child learn to better manage emotions is often “caught more than taught.” Ask the Lord to enable you to model helpful and healthy coping—and, in time, your child will soon follow your example on their own. With prayer, patience, and understanding, you can help them to feel better and be more in control of their emotions.

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Eliza Huie

Eliza Huie (MA, LCPC) is the author of Count Yourself Calm, a book that teaches kids to focus their attention on God and helps them manage their emotions. Eliza Huie is the director of counseling at McLean Bible Church located in the Washington D.C. metro area. She is also dean of biblical counseling for Metro Baltimore Seminary in Maryland and the author of several books, including Raising Emotionally Healthy Kids.

Read more about Eliza

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