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Coping With Emotions

Learning to express emotions in a positive way is an important skill. Here’s some tips on how to help your child cope with difficult emotions.

Content little boy hugging father

Understanding emotions in kids

Kids experience complex emotions just like adults.

  • Young kids usually don’t have the vocabulary to talk about how they are feeling. Instead they communicate their emotions in other ways
  • Kids can express their emotions through facial expressions, through their body, their behaviour and play
  • Sometimes they may act out their feelings in physical, inappropriate or problematic ways
  • Being a parent means you’ve got a really important role to play in helping kids understand their emotions and behaviours
  • Kids need to be shown how to manage their feelings in positive and constructive ways. They learn how to do this through their relationships with parents, grandparents and carers

When kids learn to manage their emotions in childhood, it leads to positive attitudes and behaviours later in life.

Kids who learn healthy ways to express and cope with their emotions are more likely to:

  • Be empathic and supportive of others
  • Perform better in school and their career
  • Have more positive and stable relationships
  • Display less behavioural problems
  • Have good mental health and wellbeing
  • Develop resilience and coping skills
  • Feel more competent, capable and confident
  • Have a positive sense of self

What you can do to help your child develop their emotional skills

Helping your child identify and express their emotions is the first step in helping them manage them. Here are some of the ways you can help your child learn about and express their feelings:

  • Tune into cues – Understand them by looking at their body language, listen to what they’re saying and observe their behaviour
  • Name the emotion – Naming emotions is the first step in helping kids learn to identify them and accept them
  • Identify emotions in others – Cartoons or picture books are a great way to discuss emotions and recognise other people's feelings
  • Be a role model – Show your child how you’re feeling about different situations and how you deal with those feelings
  • Behind every behaviour is an emotion – Knowing what is driving the behaviour can help you guide them to express it in other ways
  • Encourage with praise – Praise your child when they talk about their feelings or express them in an appropriate and helpful way
  • Get creative – Having your child draw their emotions and name them can help them identify and accept different emotions

Dealing with emotional upsets

Sometimes kids don’t have the words to express how they feel and may act out their emotions.

Your child might hit or throw toys when angry or frustrated.

Or they might have a hard time settling down at bedtime after an exciting day.

Use this as a learning opportunity to teach your child to express their feelings in a positive way. Teach your child to act on emotions by:

  • Trying to solve the problem with words
  • Talking with a grown-up about what is happening
  • Describing what they are feeling or reactions in their body
  • Saying what they feel instead of acting it out
  • Asking for help or support
  • Taking time to relax before trying again
  • Finding a different way to do things
  • Walking away and taking time out
  • Spending time with a loved one or asking for a hug or cuddle
  • Taking some deep breaths

Other ways to teach kids about their emotions

As well as dealing with emotional upsets when they happen, there are longer-term strategies you can use to help your child to manage their difficult emotions.

Help them find new strategies – Add new activities to the list so they have a variety of ways of coping with emotions eg. dancing, games, deep breaths

Accept feelings – Acknowledge your child’s emotions and let them know that it’s ok to have and express feelings. Respond with reassuring words or a hug

Listen to your child’s feelings – Let them talk about feelings so they feel heard. Try not to minimise, dismiss or ‘fix’ the negative feelings straight away

Create a story – By asking them what happened, what they thought, what they felt and what they did (or could do differently next time)

Encourage problem solving – Once your child has expressed their feelings, work together to come up with a plan to solve the problem (if you can)

Find out what helps them – Have a list of activities they find calming and that helps them get through difficult emotions eg. read a story together

Be a safe space for your child – So they feel secure and able to express their emotions and find ways to deal with them

Seeking Support

It can help to talk through your options with someone who understands.

Here's a list of supports you can check out:

  • See your GP or Child Health Nurse
  • Community Child Health Centre
  • Talk with family or friends with kids
  • Mothers groups (face to face or online)
  • Go to trsuted websites such as: Raising Children Network 

You play an important role in your child’s emotional development

Kids who are able to understand, express and manage a wide range of emotions experience long term benefits to their mental health and wellbeing.

This content was last reviewed 09/05/2018

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