Managing Big Feelings
Just like grown-ups, children can have feelings for so many reasons. Times of uncertainty, stress, or change can cause feelings to feel even bigger. And every child expresses their feelings differently. Sometimes children need help from a grown up to learn how to notice, name, and manage their big feelings. Explore the resources and ideas in this bundle to help your child.
The resources in this bundle will…
- introduce the idea of emotional literacy,
- offer strategies to help families talk about and express emotions,
- provide playful activities you can do together to manage big feelings.
Big Feelings in My Body
In this video, we see that Elmo feels upset. His mom helps him notice feelings in his body. Then she helps him name and manage his big feeling. Watch the video together with children.
- Before watching: Talk about feelings. How many emotions can you name? Can you act them out?
- While you watch: Notice what Elmo’s mom does to help Elmo notice feelings in his body, and how they playfully express them together.
- After watching: Ask children what happened in the video. Then practice the mindfulness strategy together: Close your eyes and notice any sensations in your own body. (Tip: use the printable below to help guide children.)
Grown-ups, read the article below for more ways you can recognize and respond to your child’s big feelings.
How to Recognize and Respond to Big Feelings
When a child is having big feelings, it can be hard for them to pinpoint what the problem is (it can be hard for grown-ups, too!). Very young children especially may lack a developed “feelings vocabulary” which can make it hard for them to communicate what they’re feeling. Children need help from grown-ups to learn what feelings look and sound like, and what to call them.
How do I recognize big feelings in my child?
Recognizing when your child is experiencing strong emotions can help us communicate more empathetically and effectively. But recognizing big feelings can be tricky. Every child expresses their feelings differently. It’s important to look for changes in behavior that seem out of character for your child. You can also watch children for signs of stress. In preschool, these may include fear of being alone, bad dreams, “accidents” or constipation, bed-wetting, changes in appetite, or an increase in temper tantrums, whining, or clinginess.
The printable lists a few more things you might look for, and some ways you might respond.
Responding to my child’s big feelings
If your child is having big feelings, first, let him know that his feeling is okay. Then put a name to his feeling (mad, sad, worried, etc.), and remind him that feelings come and go—this one won’t last forever. Then explain that there are things he can do to express and release his big feeling: He could take a deep breath, draw a picture of his feeling, sing a song, or stomp his feet. Finally, offer comfort. Your extra hugs and reassurance can go a long way.
Remember, it’s important to address big feelings sooner rather than later. When we respond to a child’s big feelings in the moment—by offering comfort, listening, or providing a way to release the energy—we can mitigate the negative effects of stress.
Where do you feel big feelings?
Sometimes we can feel our feelings in our bodies, even before we know what to call them. Use this graphic to start a conversation with your child. First, talk about the sensations that Elmo describes. Then ask, “Where do you feel big feelings?” You might even invite children to close their eyes and notice any sensations in their bodies.