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How to help kids manage their emotions

Life isn’t easy for a tween. In fact, life can be downright complicated and confusing for adolescents. Keep reading to learn how to help kids understand what their emotions are telling them so they can improve their social relationships, decision-making skills and self-control.

Teen girl crying

Adolescent rollercoaster

Imagine how complicated your days can be as an adult when you’re trying to function in the midst of anger, sadness, confusion, embarrassment or even infatuation. Kids have intense emotions and strong feelings, too, and they should never be discounted. In fact, it’s crucial to validate your child’s experiences. Here’s how to help your child explore and translate their emotions to determine just what their feelings are telling them.

What’s behind a kid’s emotions?

Is your child having trouble concentrating? Are her once-stellar grades suddenly slipping? Chances are, there may be some untapped emotions that need to be examined before a solution can be reached.

Studies have shown that emotional learning is linked to academic success, says Mary Lamia, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and author of Understanding Myself: A Kid’s Guide to Intense Emotions and Strong Feelings. “The ability to identify, understand and manage your emotions is important for focusing, calming down, making decisions and having organizational skills,” she explains.

Feeling overwhelmed can cause anyone to be ineffective or put a kink in their thought process. So before you scold your distracted son or daughter for slacking off, take some time to ask them questions to determine what might really be going on inside.

Tips to help kids manage emotions

Whenever your child is hurting or unhappy, you just want to fix things for them. But the biggest favor you can do for your child is encourage them to figure out exactly what it is they’re feeling to deal with the problem in its entirety.

Identify the emotion.

“Help your child understand and name the emotion she’s experiencing, such as the negative thoughts and irritability she has when angry, the repulsion and need to turn away when disgusted or the unhappy thoughts and heaviness in her chest when sad,” explains Lamia. Let them know that they don’t have to be afraid of their weaknesses — they’re part of being human.

Understand the source of the emotion.

Stuffing away an emotion or acting out in unhealthy ways because of a feeling — biting your nails, screaming into your pillow or hurting yourself or others — is detrimental at any age. “Rather than trying to get rid of an emotion, help your child think about what that emotion is telling her and whether it is correct for the situation,” says Lamia.

Accept the emotion.

Reassure your child that his emotions are normal, natural and acceptable. Encourage him to stand tall and look confident even if he doesn’t feel so sure of himself inside, suggests Lamia. “Something that triggers shame in you can make you feel inadequate about your whole self. Separate out what is making you ashamed from everything else about yourself.”

A note about bullies

Bullying is nothing new, but different forms of bullying — via social networking in particular — have brought this typical school-age behavior to the forefront. To help your child deal with a bully who is wreaking havoc on their emotions, Lamia offers the following insight: “Research studies have found that kids who behave like bullies have high self-esteem, but are very ‘shame-prone’ — they’re afraid their failures or shortcomings will be exposed.”

Being mean allows a bully to take the attention away from the parts of themselves about which they’re ashamed. She adds, “Kids who bully and tease can easily figure out what makes other kids ashamed. They’re skilled at triggering the emotion of shame in others. Try to keep yourself from getting pushed into feeling shame that really does not belong to you.”

Read more about your child’s emotions

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