What to Say to a Kid with Big Feelings

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Humans are emotional creatures. We all experience core emotions like sadness, anger, fear, happiness, surprise, and fear throughout our days. Kids who are just learning how to feel and process their emotions don’t have all the same skills as adults when it comes to regulating emotional responses and being able to communicate what they need with words. Sometimes, it can be difficult for adults to handle kids’ strong emotions for this reason because whether we realize it or not, we expect children to be able to handle their emotions in a more mature way than they are capable of. We may tell kids to “calm down” or “there’s no reason to cry” in part because we want the kids in our lives to feel better. It can be hard to watch someone experience big feelings! But it’s also a way to try to reason with logic–something that kids just can’t do.

Adults are responsible for teaching kids about appropriate emotional responses (taking some alone time in your room instead of hitting your sister when you’re mad, for example) but it’s important to take a moment to acknowledge emotions before moving into behavior correction or offering solutions. Here’s a phrase you can use to start a conversation with kids about their big feelings:

“It’s okay to feel that way.”

It’s a short phrase, but it has a big impact by letting kids know that their feelings aren’t wrong even if their reaction needs some adjustment. Here are some examples of how to use it:

“I can tell by the tone of your voice that you’re angry with me. It’s okay to feel that way but I need some space before we can talk about what’s bothering you.”

“You are so happy and excited about getting to play with your friend today! Please take a deep breath and focus on putting on your shoes.”

“I know it’s so frustrating to fail a test. It’s okay to feel that way. I’m sorry you’re hurting right now.”

Having a go-to phrase gives you space to decide how to respond instead of reacting. If you ever feel like you don’t know what to say when you’re in the room with a big feeling (yours or a kid’s!), you can use this phrase to remind yourself that it really is okay to feel any feeling. There’s no good or bad–it’s just all part of being human.

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