Tips on How to Manage the Big Feelings
Talk about feelings with your children
Encourage children to talk about their feelings. Let them know it’s perfectly normal to feel scared or angry. Show that you understand and empathise with them. Simply be doing this, you’re telling them that it’s OK to be open and honest when you feel sad, angry or down. It’ll then be easier for you, and them, to identify and manage these emotions further down the line.
Build your child’s emotional vocabulary
Have a chart on the wall that helps children to vocalise their feelings. Generally, children know ‘happy’, ‘sad’ or ‘angry’, but if you expand their knowledge it will help them identify further feelings, such as ‘frustration’, ‘fear’ or ‘disappointment’. With this, you can help them understand which each one means and how to manage it.
Identify where in the body each emotion comes from
Draw a body map and get them to identify where in the body each emotion comes from. This helps children to be aware of their body signals and understand when big feelings are developing. They can then nip them in the bud before they get out of control.
Create ‘feelings characters’
Give each feeling a name and a personality to help children recognise that they are not defined by their feelings. Their emotions are not them or a part of their identity, but rather come and go throughout the day.
Have a toolkit to handle each emotion
Once you have identified each emotion and where it comes from, put a plan in place with your child to tackle each one.
This might be different for each child, so discuss with them individually how they feel and agree the best way to stay in control when the big feelings start to take over.
Use nourishing and comforting activities within the plan that will help your child to feel safe, grounded and reassured. Baking, going for a walk or watching more Pepper Pig than usual are all great activities to try.
You can even create a poster together to visualise all the things they can do when these big feelings get in the way. For example:
Use deep belly breaths and power breathing
Power breathing is a fantastic way to calm children down. It helps to lower the levels of cortisol in the body and decrease our ‘fight or flight’ panic response. It also allows them step away from the chaos and come back to the present moment.
How to power breathe:
For young children, blowing bubbles can help practice power breathing, or even take a small soft toy and place it on their tummy. Ask them to make the toy go up and down as they breath. This will make sure they’re breathing from their diaphragm, rather from their chest.
Power breathing isn’t just for children. Parents can also use this if they’re feeling overwhelmed.
Practice a few times throughout the day; simply take a couple of minutes, perhaps when you’re doing the washing up or having a cup of tea. This will continually send a message to the primitive part of your brain that you’re calm and in control.
Shift the big feelings with movement
Big feelings have a lot of energy in our body, so the best way to get rid of this is to move. Use exercise or movement to dissolve the big feelings and help regain control. When things are getting out of hand, try asking your child to run on the spot, dance around the kitchen or shake it out.
Give space to feel those feelings
It’s natural that children are going to be acting slightly different than usual and that’s OK. Give yourselves as a family more space to explore the big feelings; be more affectionate, have more cuddles, enjoy more downtime. What’s important now is that we all feel safe, nourished and happy.