2 Strategies and 1 Rule to Guide Kids Through Difficult Emotions

kids emotions

“You never listen to me!”

I’ll bet this sounds familiar.

Knowing how to respond to your child’s feelings without being dismissive is important and here’s why…

  •     Your child learns that they can handle difficult feelings without avoiding or stuffing them
  •     You and your child strengthen your connection
  •     Your child feels valued, worthy and accepted even when experiencing difficult emotions

Here are 2 strategies and 1 rule to help you guide your child through difficult feelings such as fear, disappointment, and frustration.  

 

Strategy 1:

Feelings are like waves.

Help to shift your child’s perspective by teaching them feelings are like waves in the ocean. There are big ones, little ones, fun ones to play in and not so fun ones that crash over you. There is always another wave coming. Feelings are always changing and shifting.

You can say, “ Right now, you are feeling disappointed. You wanted your brother to play outside with you and he said no. But, I also know that you will have other feelings today.” Then give your child some examples of how they might feel throughout the day such as he or she might feel excited when playing Minecraft or he or she might feel proud after drawing a picture of a cat-icorn (in case you haven’t heard, this mythical creature is a cross between a cat and a unicorn).

This strategy is important because it teaches your child that feelings come and go. It fosters resiliency and emotional self-regulation.

 

Strategy 2:

Listen to the feelings in the story not the facts.

Ask your child what is happening for them and then listen to their story with the goal of identifying the feelings expressed in their story. No need to point out inaccuracies, illogical points, or try to convince your child why his or her perspective is wrong.

After your child has told the story of their experience, reflect the feelings back to them in a simple sentence such as, “ You felt sad when the other kid’s ran off to play without you. I know you’re sad and I’m here with you.”

This strategy is important because it teaches your child that they can feel their feelings, they can sit with them until they go away and they can tolerate them without avoiding or stuffing. It also shows them that you will be there to support them with difficult or painful emotions.

 

and 1 Rule:

Avoid distracting or discounting.

In these moments, when your child is struggling and in emotional pain, you just want to ease your child’s suffering, you want to make her or him feel better and you want to do it as fast as possible.

Distracting is when you suggest other more pleasant activities for your child to engage in and avoid dealing with the emotions that have been triggered. It often occurs when parents themselves struggle with tolerating their child’s distress. This shuts down your child’s expression and experience of difficult emotions creating the unhealthy coping strategies of stuffing and avoiding.

Discounting is when parents minimize or try to talk their child out of their feelings. The philosophy behind this is that if you can logically explain to your child why her or his feelings are wrong, she or he will feel better.   In reality, the message your child hears is you are wrong, your feelings are wrong, and you’re not good enough because you’re having these feelings, so stop.

Following this rule is essential because your child will know and feel that you are empathizing with his or her feelings and will no longer feel you are dismissing their emotions.

 

Using the techniques of Feelings are like waves and Listen to the feelings in the story not the facts, will support your child in feeling heard and not dismissed. Eliminating distraction and discounting will support your child in tolerating their uncomfortable emotions.

By implementing these two strategies and one rule, you are teaching your child the skills of emotional resiliency. Say goodbye to the “You never listen to me’s!”

42 thoughts on “2 Strategies and 1 Rule to Guide Kids Through Difficult Emotions

  1. Oh gosh! This is so lovely – so spot on for me. My sweet 8 year old boy has been going through the 9 year change and the emotions – wow! This is SOOOO helpful! Thank you for the excellent reminders and the practical steps!

  2. Oh my, your two strategies and one rule are so important in raising well-adjusted kids. I’m beginning to think that teaching our kids how to self-regulate should be stressed more in parent education…especially for intense, fiery kids.

    • I so agree. The parents I work with absolutely love having tips and techniques to support their kids with emotional regulation.

  3. What a great article Kim! I am a mother of two little ones, and I just love the analogy; feelings are like waves as well as the second technique, and 1 rule. Great information for parents to help their kids feel heard, honoured and be emotionally intelligent and resilient. Thank you!

    Ruzica Kozul
    LOA Life Coach

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  4. Wow, I have never thought of the negative effects of distracting a child when they are having uncomfortable feelings. That is such a great point that it is helping them turn to other things to make them feel happy instead of face their uncomfortable feeling and deal with it head on. Thanks for the tips I appreciate them.

  5. So true! Thank you for the waves illustration. Its a good one for kids at a level they can understand.

    Being with my child when she has negative emotions instead of trying to change them is not always easy (as it triggers my inner peace). But it lets her see that I love her n matter what she is feeling.

    I used to try so hard to get her to be more positive. I didn’t want her to suffer what she didn’t need to suffer. But I was denying her the right to her emotions.

    • So many parents tell me that they just don’t want their kids to suffer. It can be hard to tolerate our kids uncomfortable and intense emotions, but the rewards of teaching them to tolerate suffering far outweigh those of teaching them to avoid it.

  6. This is such brilliant information. I always try to listen and sympathise when my three year old is feeling sad or angry. I think it’s important to let children know that it’s ok to feel sad or angry etc, it’s all part of being human and that’s why I particularly agree with the third point, don’t distract or discount. Emotions are healthy and normal, even though they sometimes don’t make us feel the best, they are all equally important.

  7. This really helpful. It is very difficult with our children to deal with them as we are so emotionally bound up with them. Thank you

  8. What a great article, and to the point! Adults can take something from this as well. I have often compared emotions to waves and was happy to see that analogy used here. I’ve never heard of avoiding distracting your child- but it totally makes sense! Thanks for this article 🙂

  9. I love to idea of telling them that the emotions are like waves, and to listen to their story to find out what emotions they are feeling and address that!

    Thanks
    Angela Mondor
    The Geeky Girl

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  10. This is an incredibly important article. My unreasonable fears were shrugged off when I was a child. If my mother had actually listened and discussed my fears, perhaps the story of my abuse would have been discovered before I became an adult. Thank you for an important message for parents and grandparents.

  11. Great parenting tips! Love the rule about not using distraction to divert the topic. Most parents are just tired and feeling overwhelmed, so it can be a crutch to attempt distraction to save time and energy. It pays off in the long-term to stay present and listen to the feelings : )

    • It can be hard in the moment to gather the energy and be present. The first key in my free eBook, “The 5 Essential Parenting Keys to Empower Kids to Conquer Anxiety”, is full of techniques to help parents stay present. Check it out.

  12. Great advice Kim, and advice that I will implement further (I’m currently working on not teaching them to comfort eat by handing over a sweet every time they’re hurt). I do make a point of trying to pinpoint the underlaying feeling but I’m not that hot, I guess I’ll get better with practice.

  13. What a wonderful, insightful post, Kim! Every parent in the world should see this. We have to acknowledge how kids feel to valadate them. I like how you set the steps out in the bright numbers, and totally love that photo of the little girl. Thanks for a terrific post.

  14. I’d love to learn more about this! My 3 year old gets so angry when I don’t understand what he’s trying to talk to me. I feel his frustration but don’t know how to help him!

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