Parenting Tips: How to Deal with Little Kids’ Big Emotions

Apr 26, 2021 - In the News

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The pandemic wall is real and we are all hitting it at different times. Adults and children continue to experience loss, grief, confusion and frustration. How can parents help their children with emotions that seem too hot to handle?


Big feelings may show up in ways that are tempting to label as bad behavior, especially when parents are struggling, too. But a child doesn’t have the skills or life experience to communicate big feelings in ways adults can easily understand. Here are some basic communication strategies to de-escalate a difficult situation.


You May Be Thinking

Try Saying

“What is wrong with you?”    

“I see you are upset. Let’s work together to figure out what you need.”

“Why are you being so difficult?”    

“I can tell you are struggling. I want to help.”

“Do not give me attitude, or else…”    

“I know you are angry. Let’s work on getting back to the way we usually talk to each other.”

“If you don’t do this, then I am going to do that…”    

“I will be happy to allow video game time as soon as homework and chores are complete.”



Caregivers start contemplating punishment or making threats when frustrated, says Christina Helm, director of PCHAS’ Family Solutions for Kids Program. She points out that it is “helpful for caregivers to honestly reflect on whether they are holding kids to a higher standard than adults. After all, when we  feel stressed or rushed or low, don’t we want other people to be patient with us?”


Christina also reminds parents that a difficult situation is often the tip of the iceberg. “Remember basic needs. Your child may be tired, hungry, overstimulated or confused by conflicting information. An attitude of judgment will provoke a self-protective stance and escalate a conflict. Try to give children your curiosity, which prompts discovery.”


Attending with curiosity instead of leading with judgment or threats always gets a better outcome. Curiosity prompts discovery. Judgment prompts self-protective stance. Knowing the difference between the two and being both curious and compassionate with ourselves and others sets the stage for growth and healing.


Children of all ages can have a full range of moods and struggle with bad days, too. They are human. When we meet their imperfections with curiosity and compassion, we open the door to growth and healing.



PCHAS provides counseling to children and families facing challenges of all sorts. There is no cost and therapists may meet in the family home or another convenient location. Learn more by calling 800-888-1904 or writing to info@pchas.org.  


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