Skip to main content

7 Skillful Ways to Help Kids Manage Intense Feelings

Feelings: they make life worthwhile. They make life interesting.  They make life, er, complicated at times.  No matter if we view feelings as a friend or as a foe, we will all have to deal with them.  Yes, we all have feelings...but for some of us, the way we handle them can get us into some pretty tough spots. 

It can be the same way for kids.  Particularly for kids who experience their emotions in an intense way. The beauty of it all, as I see it, is that we can help our kids manage over-the-top feelings.  When we do this, we give them a gift that lasts a lifetime.

Feelings Just Are

An important thing to bear in mind when it comes to feelings is that no one feeling is either good or bad.  Feelings just areThey are what they are.  The degree to which we feel our feelings differs:  some of us feel our feelings in a BIG way, and our feelings are amplified to great proportions.  For others of us, our feelings are there just the same, but they seem barely perceptible to bystanders.  We can thank our temperament, in part, for this! 

Do You Parent a Kid with Over-the-Top Feelings

If you parent a child with over-the-top feelings, nobody has to tell you just how out of control things can seem to get sometimes.  You may be one of those parents who puts in the equivalent of an 8 hour day (dealing with the hijacked emotions of your child), before you even leave for the office (I know some of you are nodding "yes" to this).  It can be challenging, for sure, but helping even the most intense of kids can be accomplished.  It will take time.  It will take patience, but it can be done. And it will make a world of difference to the child.

Responding Effectively to Intense Feelings in Kids

Here are a few tips that can help you help your child:

1.  Maintain Your Own Composure

When a child is falling apart at the seams, it can be difficult to maintain your own composure, but in order to help your child, this is exactly what you must do.  Breathe.  Imagine yourself staying calm.  Imagine yourself at peace. Imagine that your child is reaching out her hand to you for help.  Imagine yourself in her corner.  BE THERE FOR HER.  Punishing her for strong feelings that she is ill-equipped to manage accomplishes nothing.

2.  Handing it Over

When your child is melting down, maybe screaming at you and telling you how terrible you are, how you're a dummy-head, doody-downer, poopie pants or any other creative term she can come up with, it is your job to look beyond the words and recognize that your child is in distress and is handing the problem over to you for help.  It won't look that way to you, perhaps, but it is what is happening. 

3.  Shift Your Perspective

When you recognize that your child isn't going out of her way to make your life miserable, and that she wants to successfully manage her BIG feelings, but just doesn't yet have the skill or emotional maturity to do so, you'll have a much better chance of managing your own emotional fallout.  Don't personalize.  Your child cannot push your buttons if you don't let her.  (Nor can anyone else, for that matter!)

4.  Be Large and In Charge (of yourself, that is)

Focus on the fact that the only control you have is control of yourself.  You cannot control your child or her behaviors. You can only control how you respond AND what you choose to teach her about becoming more capable in handling her own upset feelings.  What do you want her to learn? Being "large and in charge" of your emotions is one big step towards modeling self-control, and showing her what she will one day look like when she accomplishes this task. If you need a visual to help yourself keep control, check this out.

6.  Provide Healthier Outlets

Offer your child healthier outlets for her BIG feelings, which won't hurt herself, property or anyone else.  When you recognize that E-motion is "Energy in Motion", you can begin to appreciate the need for that upset, angry, worry, anxiety or other emotion to be expressed.  If you need some help in figuring out some ways to do this check here

7.  Opportune Moments

Be sure to try to reach and teach your child during moments of peace and calm.  Not much new learning takes place when the brain is in defensive mode.  Our Feelings Fun workbook can help your help your child talk about, process and problem-solve about BIG feelings.  Download it here!

More help for feelings can be found here:


Melitsa said…
Love these practical ideas. Now to just remember them in the moment.
Maryann said…
Thanks for a useful post. My son has autism and often goes off the handle. We have trouble brining it all back in. I'm going to keep this post handy.
Melitsa and Maryann,

Thanks so much for dropping by. I'm glad these ideas resonate with you!

~Wendy =)
Greg Chua said…
Parenting these days is a task in many ways because of the overwhelmingly advanced mind sets and ideas that the new generation child portrays. We all know that being a parent is not an easy task that’s why we the child must be cooperate with our parent. Thank you so much for sharing this very useful information.

Greg | Parenting Philippines
Thanks for stopping by, Greg!

Wendy =)

Popular posts from this blog

10 Things That Can Hurt Your Child's Self-Esteem

Self-esteem.  We all want our kids to have it.  We hear tons about HOW to improve our child's self-esteem. What we sometimes don't know are the things that can actually HURT our child's burgeoning sense of self.
A World of Endless Possibilities
When our kids have self-esteem, the world is an endless source of possibilities.  Possessing an awareness of one’s self that includes confidence and the ability to be an effective agent in one’s own life has a significant impact upon happiness across the lifespan.  The question is how to help our kids develop and maintain it for life.  Helping to instill this characteristic is not as elusive as you might think. 
There are many parenting strategies that contribute to raising ethical, successful and confident kids. Bloom: 50 Things to Say, Think and Do with Anxious, Angry and Over-the-Top Kids, which I co-authored with Dr. Lynne Kenney, highlights an approach which is the most promising way I know to raise incredible peop…

How BIG is Your Child's Anger?

What Size is Your Child's Anger?
Whenever I work with a child with anger issues, I like to have them describe the size of their anger.  Is it small, medium, large or super-sized?  Some kids never move beyond "medium" while others go from "small" to "super-sized" in mere seconds.  We can thank temperament for that, in large part. 
If you parent a child with a strong temperament and BIG feelings, you are probably no stranger to "large" and "super-sized" displays of anger.  I have certainly seen my fair share, both as a mom and as a therapist. 
The Good News
The good news is, we can help our kids learn how to regulate BIG feelings by giving them opportunities to talk about their feelings, name their feelings and identify ways to "shrink down" the intenstiy of it all.  I know that this works, because I've seen it in action (both at home, and at my office).
Simply download our free printable to start the discussio…

Why Labeling Feelings is So Important: Beyond Mad, Sad & Glad

Helping kids put their feelings into words (affect labeling) can help them better navigate strong, negative emotional experiences. We tend to "keep it simple" when talking about feelings with young children and may often stick to the basics, such as mad, glad and sad. That is all well and good. Once our children have mastered that, we can move on to a bigger variety of emotionally descriptive words. We can increase our child's understanding of a bigger expanse of feelings by broadening the terms we use.

Stumped about what feeling words to use beyond the three aforementioned? Try some of these on for size...

BraveCheerfulWorried JoyfulFrightenedCalmExcitedConfusedFrustratedCuriousFriendlyShy IgnoredLonelyInterestedProudEmbarrassedJealousAngryBored Surprised SillyUncomfortableStubbornSafeRelievedPeaceful OverwhelmedLovingCranky

Why it Matters:

We've long thought that naming our feelings could help us manage negative emotional states, but we weren't quite sure how exact…