When my sister was younger she would literally wear her emotions on her sleeve…no…I’m serious…she would hold out her hands and wiggle her fingers and say “You hurt my feelings!” While a child showing you with their hands how their feelings were hurt can be pretty adorable, it also isn’t far from the truth. When we as adults have our feelings hurt or are upset with someone or something, we can feel it throughout our whole body. Just think of that feeling for a little one who is still learning what all these big emotions are and what they mean…sometimes it must feel impossible to try to describe or express how they truly feel.
That’s where we as their caregivers come in. As adults still trying to learn how to manage and express our own feelings, it can be really difficult not to feel anger or exasperation when our little ones express their feelings by screaming and throwing tantrums. So what’s my suggestion? The next time your little one is expressing a really big feeling simply do this…let them express it.
Now I’m not saying let them hit or kick or be unsafe to themselves or others…and if you’re in a public place it may not be time for an experiment, but at your next opportunity when a tantrum happens at home…let them get out their frustration. Yelling, crying, stomping their feet…whatever they are doing let it play out. Then when the biggest phase of anger has passed get down to their level and calmly, quietly ask “How are you feeling right now” or “Wow, there’s a lot going on right now isn’t there”? Ask them to try to think about what made them upset and why they feel that way. Try to empathize and reassure them that you would be upset if your Lego tower kept breaking too.
Once you see their demeanor change and their body starts to calm, then you can talk about how they handled their frustration. Is it appropriate to throw things or yell at me? Ask them about some ways they can think of to better handle their feelings when they get upset. You’ll find it’s much easier talking to a little one who feels like their feelings matter and are valid, then it is shouting at a child who is in the midst of an emotional hurricane inside their head.
Feelings feel real, even if they are often exaggerated. Allowing a child to feel their frustration and anger, and then talking with them once they’ve calmed down about appropriate ways to express it validates the fact that it’s okay to feel things, and then empowers them to come up with solutions of how to deal with it. A child who knows that it’s okay to feel hurt or upset and that you’ll listen to them and allow them to express their feelings will be able to get through their emotional hurricanes much faster and with less damage to the environment around them.
For more articles from this author, check out his blog at This is Fatherhood!