5 ways to help children manage emotions
Sometimes we need to help children manage emotions. Young children are more influenced by their ’emotional brain’, than their ‘logical brain’ and often experience BIG feelings. Although these feelings can sometimes seem a little silly to us, they are very real for a young child. So how can we help our children deal with these strong emotions?
Well, in this post we will explore five different, yet complimentary methods, inspired (of course!) by yoga principles.
Five simple methods to help children manage emotions
Before a child can start to manage their strong emotions, we must teach them to recognise and name them. After all, we can’t very well deal with anger if we don’t even know that we are feeling angry!
As parents and caregivers we can help children to understand feelings and emotions by:
- Talking about our own emotions and feelings and the ways in which we cope with them (for example: “I am feeling sad today because it has been one year since great grandma passed away. Shall we look at some family photos together and remember the fun times we had with her?” or, “I am crying happy tears today because auntie Julie just had a healthy baby girl!”)
- Observing and naming emotions when we recognise them in our children (for example: “I can see that you are feeling angry. It must be very frustrating that you can’t wear your Superman costume today because it is dirty.”)
- Exploring feelings of characters when we read together. For example “How might Sophie be feeling after The Tiger Who Came to Tea had drunk all the water in the tap and she couldn’t have her bath?”
- Encouraging our children to use positive language or ‘self-talk’ when referring to themselves (for example, when they are finding something especially challenging: “I’m not ready for that yet.” rather than “I just can’t do it!”). This enables our children, as they grow into young adults, to begin to react to life’s experiences in a more logical or rational and less emotional way.
Here are a few examples of positive self-talk.
We can express our feelings & emotions through our bodies by using yoga poses (this is especially effective when combined with facial expressions!). By naming the feelings as we do these poses with our children, they will become better able to recognise and name their own emotions.
- I am feeling shy or tired (mouse pose)
- I am happy today (dog pose with a wagging tail)
- I’m feeling angry or frustrated (snapping crocodile pose)
- I am brave and confident (starfish pose)
- I am feeling playful and energetic (monkey pose)
3. Movement (and lack of it)
Movement is an incredibly useful tool for releasing negative emotions. This is true for both adults and children. As adults, we are better able to recognise this in ourselves (e.g. “I need to go for a run, I’m so stressed!”), but children may need some support with this.
We can use different movements to help children manage emotions, depending on how they are feeling. For example:
- If children are feeling angry or frustrated by a particular task, we can acknowledge this, name the emotion (anger/irritation), then suggest taking a movement break together, such as spider pose. We might end this movement break with a loud exhale or ‘lion’s breath’ (in lion pose), releasing the anger along with the breath.
- When children are tired and over-active after school, we can use slow, gentle movements, or even stillness, combined with deep belly breathing (try doing this with a favourite teddy bear) to unwind.
- When a child is anxious or upset, we can use an activity such as feather-blowing to calm and organise thoughts and feelings.
We have just mentioned the importance of ‘conscious breathing’ in helping children manage their big emotions. This simply means being aware of our breath and how it can help us deal with our feelings by regulating and calming ourselves. By focusing on the breath, we can start to change negative emotions into positive ones.
As we slow our breath, our heart-rate and blood pressure return to normal and we start to feel less anxious or stressed. Bee breath is perfect for reducing anxiety in adults and children alike.
Taking deep, conscious breaths fills our bodies with oxygen and can energise us when we are feeling tired or run-down. Try alternate nostril breathing together when you or your child need to improve concentration.
Young children learn best through play. Play is an important learning tool for relationships and communication.
Here are some example of how play can help children manage emotions:
- By role-playing different situations, children can learn to recognise feelings and emotions. For example, during hospital role-play – a child may pretend to be upset because they are feeling unwell or have hurt themselves. Another child will recognise this emotion and respond accordingly, with sympathy and pretend-treatment.
- We can use dolls and teddy bears to project and name feelings, especially with very young children. When a child is obviously tired, but does not want to acknowledge this, we might talk playfully to their favourite teddy and ask if they are feeling tired. We might then make the bear yawn, rub his eyes and listen to him ‘whisper’ in our ear. Then we might say, “What’s that, Mr Bear? You ARE feeling tired and you really want to go to bed, but you can’t possibly go to sleep unless Emma gives you a cuddle in her cosy snuggly bed..? Oh dear, Emma, will you help poor, sleepy Mr Bear?”
- By practicing yoga movements and poses with our children, we can reconnect and bond with them. This is especially important after a tantrum!
This playful approach is endorsed by Larry Cohen PhD, author of Playful Parenting. He advocates “joining children in their world of play, focusing on connection and confidence, giggling and roughhousing, and following your child’s lead.”
Can you think of any more methods to help children manage emotions?