How to help an emotional child

Help your child get a grip on her emotions with these easy hacks. By Lisa Witepski

“Screaming, crying, perfect storm…” No, Taylor Swift wasn’t singing about your toddler in Blank Space – but, sometimes, it feels as though she might be.

According to educational psychologist Jenny Da Silva, every child is different when it comes to showing emotion. But, what we see as a tantrum may simply be your child’s way of expressing himself when he doesn’t have the words to communicate effectively. “This is especially true for very small or non-verbal children, who often cry or throw tantrums because they have no way to tell you what they feel.”

ALSO SEE: 9 of the worst toddler tantrums over really weird things

Teaching them how to sign a few words may help with this, she advises. Children may also pick up on their parents’ behaviour, so if you’re faced with a drama queen, you may have to look to your own penchant for overreacting. The reverse is also true, though: Jenny says that if you’re someone who tends to bottle your emotions, your child may do the same. “It’s imperative to help children identify what they are feeling and show them how to express this in appropriate ways,” she notes.

Finally, if your little one seems to be a very frequent crier, it may be worth investigating a little further, as there are sometimes underlying causes that need to be addressed.

Here are a few other tricks to try:

Put a label on it

It’s actually quite easy to teach your child about emotions. When you can see that he’s overwhelmed by a specific feeling, help him put a name to it. Say something like, “I can see that you’re frustrated because your first try didn’t work”, or “did that make you angry?” You can also help him develop empathy by talking about how others feel. Try this while reading a bedtime story, for example: ask her how she thinks Cinderella felt when she thought she couldn’t go to the ball.

Feelings don’t equal behaviour

You don’t throw your pizza because you don’t like the cheese – and that’s something you need to remind your child. Point out that while all feelings are valid (even the ugly ones), we don’t act them out in ways that upset other people.

ALSO SEE: What to do when your child displays undesirable behaviour

Regulate

What do you do when you feel angry: take a few deep breaths, picture yourself on a tranquil island surrounded by sea, or phone someone for a big moan? These techniques can help your child, too. Teach her some strategies for staying calm, whether that’s taking a break from the activity that’s causing the stress, finding out what makes her happy and helping her focus on that, or even creating a kit full of things (like colouring book or squishes) that help her calm down.

What not to do

Some things, no matter how well meant, won’t prove helpful in the long run. For instance, rewarding your child for calming down or constantly taking the lead in the ‘calm down’ won’t teach her the skills she needs to be able to regulate herself. Similarly, telling her to stop crying may well have the opposite effect.

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