How to Help your Child Navigate Big Feelings

by Joy Turner October 25, 2023

child boy looking at camera sad

For such tiny beings, toddlers have big emotions.

And thank goodness they do. Happiness and sadness, highs and lows—these feelings make life meaningful. As parents, it's not our job to make our children’s emotions go away or create a state of permanent happiness, even if we wish for that superpower during tantrums.

Raising emotionally healthy little ones requires parents to create space and learning opportunities. At Kiddie Academy, we focus on providing children with opportunities that help increase mindfulness to handle emotions, self-awareness, self-regulation and empathy.

Educating little ones in these areas supports them as they begin to acknowledge their own feelings and those of others.

Ease into emotions

Preschoolers are just beginning to use verbal communication to express their needs and desires, recognizing and communicating their own feelings and understanding those of others. The newness of it all is overwhelming.

To help ease your children into these experiences, make it a point to identify your own emotions around them. For example, turn to your little ones and say, “I’m feeling tired.” Follow the statement with a sleepy facial expression, like a fake yawn. Turn the practice into a fun activity by continuing to make different facial expressions while your child guesses how you’re feeling.

Additionally, try creating a “How are You Feeling?” board in your home where your children can place pictures of themselves under the section that most aligns with their mood that day. These are both great ways for youngsters to connect with and recognize how others are feeling.

Self-awareness empowers

Around the age of 3-years-old, children start to notice their feelings and thoughts. This also brings the awareness that other people are observing and reacting to their presence, too. As children come to these realizations, it's crucial that we help them understand their feelings, actions and potential impact on those around them.

As parents, it can be difficult to manage our reactions when our little ones act out in anger. Instead of responding to their outbursts, try to remain calm and support them. Give suggestions about how your child can regulate emotions by using language such as, “I see that you’re mad right now, but let's take a deep breath together and try to relax.”

Helping your children identify and manage their emotions builds self-awareness, boosts self-empowerment and teaches them to communicate in appropriate ways.

Self-regulation: a family affair

Children of preschool age have already developed language skills that allow them to use their words as they navigate their thoughts and feelings. Managing the impulses and emotions that coincide with those skills requires a little love and support from parents and caregivers.

Family dinners out at restaurants are a great opportunity to practice self-regulation with your children. While eating out might be a nice break from nightly chores for the adults, it can be unfamiliar and uncomfortable for hungry little ones—and they won’t hesitate to express that. Instead of trying to prevent outbursts by subduing your child with technology, try a fun family game. Gather three coasters or napkins and have your child draw a face on each. Flip the drawings facedown and ask everyone to keep track of the smiley face. Whoever correctly tracks down the smiley face drawing gets to shuffle for the next round!

Empathy is learned

Your little ones might be acknowledging that those around them have feelings, but that doesn’t mean they share those feelings or perspectives. In other words, your children, although emotionally aware, haven’t yet developed empathy. Luckily, you’re your own best resource for this task.

The easiest way to teach your child empathy is to be a role model for it.

Have your children assist you in an act of kindness—try writing cards for nursing home residents or a family member who needs some uplifting. Have a conversation about how offering kindness and helping others makes you and those on the receiving end feel.

Learning how to acknowledge and manage emotions is a huge developmental milestone for children. With a little extra support from you, your children will be well on their way to emotionally healthy and successful futures.

Joy Turner


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