Menu
7 vital lessons for teaching kids how to manage their emotions

One thing I learned from traveling around the world and sitting at the feet of happiness teachers is that emotions work in a certain way. When I was surrounded by a band of monkeys on a mountain in India I was terrified, and when I was welcomed with open arms in London by new friends I was delighted. Emotions are par for the course in our everyday lives, but how we handle these ups and downs is informed by our understanding of what emotions are and how they work.

In this article, we'll discuss how to help children get a handle on how emotions work, and what they can do to move themselves in a healthier direction. The ideas presented may sound simple, but I have found that if you don't get the small stuff correct, it's harder to move up to the bigger things. If Frankie doesn't learn to handle his frustration over sharing his toys with his sister, for example, he may miss out on the enjoyment of having someone to play with.

My goal is to provide you with simple yet life-changing ideas to nurture your child's emotional health, and ultimately, happier life experiences. Of course, they're not magic, but they are the seeds of emotional mastery, which when learned young can put a child on a positive trajectory. Each idea needs to be shared at your child's appropriate age level, and then deepened over time.

1. Emotions are temporary.

No matter what emotion you're experiencing—happiness or anger—it's temporary. Boys and girls, especially those who suffer from sadness, often mistakenly think that emotions are permanent. They think the big, dark cloud over their heads will never leave, but that's not true. By thinking a new thought, they can often feel a new feeling, and the clouds will pass (most of the time). "This too shall pass" is a motto used by many adults to remind themselves of the temporary nature of emotions and can be helpful on a hard day. Children can also create their own mottos such as, "Big feelings come, and big feelings go."

2. Inside of you (at the center) is joy, your natural state.

At the center of our being is goodness, which equates to pure positive energy or joy. This is your child's natural state. But his or her challenging feelings—anger, sadness, worry, panic, frustration, disappointment, and jealousy—can cloud that natural state. But if your child learns to let these challenging emotions pass by like clouds, the inner sun (goodness) can shine again.

Learning how to let feelings—especially tricky feelings like anger—come and go takes practice. But using a tool like mindful breathing, which Thich Nhat Hanh calls his "anchor," can help a child slow down and let the big emotions pass by as he breathes through these challenging moments.

3. There are different types of emotions.

Children experience a full range of emotions, from misery to happiness, but they don't necessarily understand the different types of emotions. Some types are: fast and slow, big and small, challenging and easy, and positive and negative. For example, anger is a fast emotion and also often feels very big and can be hard to tame without training (like a big lion). But when a child realizes she is bigger than her anger, she can muster her courage and learn how to let her anger go without making not-so-smart choices.

Helping children learn about the different types of emotions and how to connect with them in a healthy way happens over time. When reflecting on a big feeling in a calm moment, some conversation starters may be: "Did that emotion feel bigger than you? Did it happen quickly? Did you feel it when it was small? If so, where in your body did you feel it?"

4. Mixed emotions are common.

Children often feel more than one emotion at the same time, such as when a pet passes away. Ten-year-old Helene had known Moby, her black Labrador retriever, her whole life and was incredibly sad when she died. But Helene also felt relief that Moby wasn't suffering anymore in her old age. Helping children name their emotions, especially when they're mixed and complicated, is the first step toward helping them constructively express them.

Once Helene named her feelings as "sadness" and "relief," she could begin letting those feelings move through her. She painted a special rock for Moby and laid it on her grave, which helped Helene feel a little better.

5. All emotions are useful.

Your emotions are simply sending you signals about what's happening inside of you, so every emotion is useful, whether it feels challenging, like disappointment, or easier, like excitement. Learning how to spot emotions when they're small (like a little frustration before it becomes a volcano-size anger) will help you constructively express it. No emotion needs to be wasted—everything can be used as a stepping-stone to your next best feeling.

Helping children realize that emotions are neither good nor bad but simply signals is essential to their positive emotional development. Conversation starters around this subject include talking about street signals (stop signs, police sirens, and traffic lights: red, yellow, and green). What do they mean? Are emotions like anger, joy, sadness or silliness sending signals, too?

6. You can learn how to increase certain emotions (the helpful ones) and reduce other emotions (the challenging ones) with practice.

Once children begin to realize that they can turn up the volume on certain emotions and lower the volume on others, the world is their oyster. There is nothing they cannot accomplish. The first step is giving children the ideas, and then the tools, while nurturing inner qualities of positive emotional health.

Being thankful is not just reserved for Thanksgiving Day. Gratitude is an emotion that moves children in a positive direction, no matter what. Every night, Hayyam makes a gratitude list as he lies in bed reflecting on his day. He's been thankful for everything from jelly beans to a new karate teacher, and feeling this appreciation, instead of focusing on what he doesn't have, helps him realize how good things really are in his life.

7. No one can do it for you.

Children must learn to take responsibility for their emotional lives and realize that they're the captains of their emotional ships. They can learn to steer toward calmer waves and through the rough ones with more ease. Just like ship captains, they must get training on how to navigate the "high seas of emotions" of anger, rejection, embarrassment, hurt, and feeling left out, for example. But with ideas, tools, and practice, children can become fully themselves in an authentic, meaningful way.

Excerpted from the book The Emotionally Healthy Child. Copyright ©2018 by Maureen Healy. Printed with permission from New World Library—www.newworldlibrary.com.

You might also like:

10 must-have registry items that will change your life, mama

The baby gear heavy hitters that should be top of your list

Calling all mamas-to-be! It's a fundamental truth of (impending) motherhood that your prepping-for-baby To Do list can feel a mile long, but really the best way to feel organized is to sort out the most important item at the top of your list: your registry. Sure the items you choose to include will end up running the gamut from nice-to-haves to absolutely essential game-changers, but mamas in the know quickly learn one thing: Not all baby gear is created equal.

So while you can and should pepper your registry with adorable inclusions that aren't necessarily can't-live-withouts (go ahead, add 'em!), you should make sure you're ticking the boxes on those pieces of baby gear that can be absolute life savers once you're in full-blown mama mode. From car seats to bouncers and playmats, your play and travel gear will be some of the most obvious important items on your list, but so can unexpected things, like a super comfy baby carrier and a snooze-inducing white noise machine. So to help you sort through the must-have options, we turned to the holy grail of motherhood that is buybuy BABY and handpicked 10 of the very best essential pieces that will change your life, we promise.

Keep reading Show less
Our Partners

9 products that will help baby sleep better (and longer!)

For many parents, attempting naps and bedtime can seem like a never-ending cycle of rocking, shushing and hoping for some kind of magic sleep solution.

How do I get my baby to sleep? This is one of the most commonly asked questions among new parents, and it makes sense, given that babies are born with their days and nights mixed up. For many parents, attempting naps and bedtime can seem like a never-ending cycle of rocking, shushing and hoping for some kind of magic sleep solution.

And while that might not exist (yet), we have found some of the best products out there that can help baby fall asleep faster and for longer durations. Because when baby is sleeping, so are you!

Dreamland Baby weighted sleep sack and swaddle

Designed by a mama, parents swear by this weighted sleep sack. It mimics your hug to give your baby security and comfort that helps them get to sleep faster and stay asleep longer. The detachable swaddle wing makes it easy to transition as they grow.

It's also super easy to get on and off, and includes a bottom-up zipper for late night changes, so you don't have to wake your baby in the process.

$79

Yogasleep Hushh portable sound machine

Yogasleep hushh sound machine

With three soothing options, this is a perfect solution to help your baby settle when naps are on the go and during travel! I love how compact this noise machine is and that it can run all night with one charge.

$30

Bebe au Lait muslin crib sheets

Burt's Bees Organic Crib Sheets

With a variety of print options to choose from, these breathable sheets are *so* soft and smooth, even through multiple washes. The luxury fabric keeps little ones warm without overheating—a formula that helps ensure more sleep for everyone.

$32

The Simple Folk perfect pajamas

The Simple Folk perfect pajamas

You know what's going to help baby have their best sleep ever? Some quality, super soft pajamas. The timeless (and aptly named!) Perfect Pajama from The Simple Folk are some of our favorites. They last forever and they're made from organic pima cotton that is safe on baby's precious skin. They come in a wide range of sizes so siblings can match and feature fold-over hand covers on sizes up to 12 months.

$37

The Snoo bassinet

Snoo

Designed by expert pediatrician and sleep guru Dr. Harvey Karp, the Snoo bassinet gently rocks your baby to sleep while snuggled up in the built-in swaddle. Not only does it come with sensors that adjust the white noise and movement based on your baby's needs, there is also an app that allows you to adjust the settings directly from your phone.

While this item is a bit on the expensive side, there is now an option to rent for $3.50 a day, which is a total game changer!

$1295

Hatch Baby Rest sound machine + nightlight

best baby sound machine

The Hatch Baby Rest is a dual sound machine and nightlight that will grow with your family. Many parents use this product with their infants as a white-noise machine and then as a "time to rise" solution for toddlers.

The thing I love most about this product is that the light it gives off isn't too bright, and you can even select different color preferences; giving your toddler choices at bedtime.

$59.99

Crane humidifier

Crane Humidifier

The only thing worse than a sick baby is a baby who is sick and not sleeping well. The Crane humidifier helps take care of this by relieving congestion and helping your baby breathe better while sleeping.

Personally, I think the adorable design options alone are enough of a reason to purchase this product, and your child will love watching steam come out of the elephant's trunk!

$46.99

Naturepedic organic crib mattress

Naturpedic Lightweight Organic Mattress

In the first few months of life, babies can spend up to 17 hours a day sleeping, so choosing a mattress that is safe (read: no chemicals!) and comfortable is incredibly important.

Naturepedic uses allergen-friendly and waterproof materials with babies and children in mind, making them easy to clean and giving you peace of mind.

$259.00

Happiest Baby sleepea 5-second swaddle

best baby swaddle

There are baby swaddles and then there is Sleepea. Similar to the brand's swaddle that is built into the Snoo, the Sleepea is magic for multiple reasons. First, it's got mesh panels ensuring baby never overheats. Second, the zipper zips from the top or the bottom, so you can change the baby's diaper in the middle of the night without ever waking them. Third, it's hip safe. Fourth, the patterns are SO cute. And fifth, the interior swaddle wrap that keeps baby's ams down has a "quiet" velcro that won't wake baby if you need to readjust while they're asleep.

$27.95

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

Shop

10 photos to take on baby’s first day that you'll cherish forever

You'll obsess over these newborn baby pictures.

Bethany Menzel: Instagram + Blog

As you're preparing for baby's birth, we bet you're dreaming of all of the amazing photos you'll take of your precious new babe. As a professional photographer and mama, I have some tips for newborn photos you'll want to capture.

Here are the 10 photos you will want to take on baby's first day.

Keep reading Show less
Life