5 Ways to Help Your Child Handle Emotions

A female middle school student is looking at a tablet

As every parent knows, children don’t always have good control over their emotions. They tend to get angry, frustrated, or sad quickly and struggle to calm themselves down. This can create a lot of problems for parents, particularly if your child is supposed to be engaged in homework or online school. Fortunately, there are ways you can help your child build better emotional self-regulation. 

When experts provide advice on how to help a child having a meltdown, they often begin with the principles of social emotional learning. Social emotional learning is a key part of a child’s education, and not only because it can help a child develop self-regulation skills. 

As education expert Dan Belenky says, “When students feel ready to take ownership of their experiences, they are more likely to succeed in school, have positive relationships, and achieve their goals.”  In other words, when you help your child learn how to calm down from school stress—or any other kind of stress—you’re also helping them build the foundations of a successful and meaningful life. 

Here are five ways you can help your child handle their emotions better:

1. Understand that Just Saying “Calm Down” Won’t Work

While it would be nice if kids could calm themselves down when we ask them to, children aren’t wired that way. As clinical psychologist Lisa Firestone says, “Demanding our kids be rational when they are operating under the influence of their irrational right brains is a mistuned effort often made in vain.” 

Instead, start by validating your child’s emotions. Children need to know it’s not wrong to have emotions. If they’re frustrated by an online school assignment or angry that they have to stop watching cartoons, it’s a good idea to acknowledge the emotion they’re feeling and let them know that everyone feels the same way from time to time. 

Helping your child understand that their emotion is normal doesn’t mean you’re excusing their behavior. You’re just helping your child build the self-awareness they’ll need to develop self-regulation skills. 

2. Encourage Your Child to Consider Why They Get Upset

Children often lack insight into why they feel the way they do. Emotions can hit them like a tsunami and then wash away just as fast. Despite this, you can still help them learn to understand what upsets them—which, according to the Child Mind Institute, can begin with you modeling the right way to manage difficult feelings

Talk to your child about the emotions you feel and what tends to set them off. Then ask them to describe what things make them happy, sad, or angry. When dealing with the stresses of school, help them work backwards from the moment they acted out to the thing that first made them start feeling their emotion. 

For learning coaches of children enrolled in online school, discussing what causes emotions can be worked in as part of the usual day. Consider setting aside a few minutes each afternoon to discuss what emotions you felt during the day and then have your child share what they felt. If they had a meltdown, you may have a good idea what triggered them and can help guide them toward understanding that trigger for themselves. The more they understand what upsets them, the better prepared they will be to cope the next time they feel their emotions heating up. 

3. Teach Self-Regulation Strategies with a Coping Toolbox

Coping with our emotions is part of life. But self-regulation strategies are not innate; we have to learn them. Since overwhelming emotions are hard to control with just our thoughts, many mental health experts suggest that you and your child put together a coping toolbox

While coping toolboxes can work for all ages, they’re especially helpful to children because they are filled with items that engage the senses—and engaging children’s senses is a great way to move their thoughts away from whatever is upsetting them. So, what should go in a coping toolbox? You can include pretty much anything that your child enjoys and engages their senses. 

A cuddly stuffed animal, a pleasantly scented candle, a music box, and even photos of favorite animals can all help your child recenter and calm down. You can also include notecards with activities like doing 20 jumping jacks or signing the alphabet twice. The goal is to help your child redirect their emotions to more pleasant sensations. And learning how to redirect our emotions is an important step in learning emotional self-regulation. 

4. Keep Yourself Calm

You can’t help your child handle their emotions if you can’t handle your own. While every parent can get frustrated by a child’s meltdown, it’s essential you don’t have a meltdown yourself. Experts agree, helping your child calm down requires you to stay calm in the moment

Of course, this can be challenging—particularly if you’re serving as a learning coach and your child is struggling with online school. You may feel like you’re doing something wrong. But you’re not. All children occasionally struggle, and your child is lucky to have you there to help them through it. 

To stay calm when your child can’t, remind yourself that your emotions are just as natural as your child’s, but that you have more tools to handle them. If you need to take a few breaths, take a few breaths. If you need to take a break, online school is often more than flexible enough to allow that. Just remember, modeling calm can help your child calm down, and give you both the space to connect and grow.  

5. Reach Out for Support

You’re not on your own. If you feel like you’ve tried everything, but your child is still having frequent, inconsolable outbursts, consider reaching out to a behavioral specialist or child psychologist. If the emotional problems center specifically around the stresses of school, reach out to the school. 

One of the best ways to reduce stress for students is to take advantage of your school’s resources. If your child is enrolled in an online school like Connections Academy, you can personally reach out to teachers, counselors, and administrators. With their guidance, you’ll find new strategies for helping your child succeed in their learning—and avoid the frustrations that can lead to emotional outbursts.   

To learn more about how you can help your child do well while learning online, check out our article offering 8 tips for student success in online school

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