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April 30, 2020
Finding effective ways to help your child cope with big emotions while you’re home together has never been more important—or difficult! Here are some suggestions for what to do when your kids or teenagers express big feelings, like sadness, anger, and anxiety.
Start by acknowledging how your child is feeling in the moment. Remember, you are validating the feeling, not the behavior. You can validate that your child is sad, angry, or scared without validating that they hit their sibling. Try saying, “I can see how angry you are right now,” or “A lot of people feel scared and anxious right now—it makes sense that you are feeling that way.”
A major part of successful coping is being prepared. Work with your child when they are calm to develop a coping plan for when they are feeling intense emotions. Help them identify which of the coping skills listed below work best for them. The plan should include:
While you are creating a plan, it can be helpful for your child to gather the supplies needed to engage in the chosen coping skills. If they choose to look at pictures of cute puppies, eat a sour candy, and do a word search puzzle, collect those materials and put them in a specified, easily accessible place that you can direct them to when they are feeling distressed.
It can be difficult to use a new skill for the first time when emotions are running high. We recommend having children practice new coping skills before trying them out in the heat of the moment.
When children are at the height of distress, they usually are unable to think rationally or talk through their feelings, and their bodies are also overwhelmed—breathing heavily, heart pounding, sweating. These skills are helpful for calming down their bodies:
Once their bodies are calmer, grounding is a skill that helps kids and teens regulate big emotions by redirecting their attention to the here and now. Try these grounding exercises:
When your child is feeling upset and overwhelmed, you can help them identify ways to soothe themselves using their senses:
Sometimes, kids and teens need to take a break from a distressing situation and engage in something else until they are able to re-engage. These activities can help:
Ask your child to do something nice for someone else, like writing a kind note to a friend or making a present for a peer.
If your child is really angry, have them watch a funny YouTube clip. If they are sad, have them watch a scary movie. Whatever they do, just make sure that it evokes a different emotion than the one they are currently stuck in.
Have your child pick a topic they like and then complete an A-Z list in which they write down something associated with the topic that begins with each letter of the alphabet. For example, with the topic of cars: A – Audi, B – BMW, C – Camaro, etc.
Ask your child to place a super sour candy on their tongue, squeeze a stress ball really, really hard, or take a hot shower.