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:

14 sweet 'just thinking of you' gifts for every mama

A sweet surprise that tells her you've been thinking of her might be the pick-me-up she needs.

Who says you have to wait for birthdays or holidays to give your bestie a great gift? A sweet surprise that tells her you've been thinking of her might be the pick-me-up she needs in these more-than-trying times. We've rounded up some of our favorite go-to gifts that are certain to be a bright spot in her week. But be warned, you may want to snag a few for yourself. (You deserve it, mama.)

Here are some our favorite "just because" gifts to give our hardworking mama friends.

New Mother face + body care duo

volition face + body care duo

This correcting oil and stretch mark minimizer is perfect for the pregnant mama looking to keep her pregnancy glow. The correcting oil brightens the skin while reducing dark spots, and the stretch mark minimizer works to smooth her ever-growing belly.

$70

Allover roller

esker allover roller

This jade roller goes beyond your typical face roller and can be used anywhere on the body. It works to increase stimulation and reduce puffiness and is perfect for applying any oils to the face or body. Plus, it feels like a mini spa treatment.

$65

Kombucha making kit

farmsteady kombucha making kit

What could be a more perfect gift for the health-obsessed friend? This kombucha making kit comes with everything you need to brew your own homemade green tea kombucha. They'll think this is the tastiest gift ever.

$45

Laetitia lipstick

cupid & psyche laetitia

This red lipstick is perfect for your makeup enthusiast bestie who is looking to spruce up her life in quarantine. Crafted in the United States, these bee and vegan-friendly and cruelty-free lipsticks are created to flatter all complexions. Cupid and Psyche Beauty makes finding the perfect red lip way too easy!

$23

Jigsaw puzzle

inner piecec jigsaw puzzle

Mamas need to destress now more than ever during quarantine. This adorable jigsaw puzzle is perfect for the mama who needs a brain break! The 500-piece puzzle designed by artist Ray Oranges features an abstract gradient design that fits a standard frame when completed. Bonus: It's printed on recycled paper and the company donates $1 from every puzzle sold to youth mindfulness programs.

$30

Matilda's Bloombox

matilda's bloombox

If we have to be stuck inside, we might as well have some gorgeous florals to brighten up the space. Matilda's Bloombox locally sources blooms, delivers them to her door and provides simple tips on how to arrange it into a beautiful bouquet.

$39

'I Am Enough' bracelet

I Am Enough bracelet

Let this dainty bracelet serve as a constant reminder to your bestie that she is enough. She'll wear this on her wrist and read this daily oath to herself, "I Am Enough."

$35

Glow assorted teas

vahdam low assorted teas

This tea gift box set covers the entire spectrum of flavors from sweet to spicy. Individually packaged in beautiful tins, your gal pal will feel like a queen sipping her morning tea. Originally $40, this set is currently on sale for just $24. We'll take two, please.

$24

Find your voice journal

find your voice journal

Journaling is a great way to ease anxiety and will slow your bestie's racing mind before bed. This gift is perfect for first time journalists and includes prompts, daily quotes and coloring pages to help her unlock her potential and find her voice.

$22

Premium frother

shore magic premium frother

This gift is fitting for your latte-sipping bestie who can't go a day without her coffee. All she has to do is add two scoops of collagen to her favorite drink, and she'll have a perfectly foamy drink ready in seconds. Skipping the drive-thru line has never been so easy!

$25

Bath soak infusion kit

maude bath soak infusion kit

Say hello to hydration! She'll be feeling smooth and relaxed as ever after a long bath soaking in these salts. This vegan + cruelty-free set incorporates dead sea salt and dehydrated coconut milk powder for an ultra hydrating experience.

$32

Tiny Tags 'mama' necklace

Tiny Tags 'mama' necklace

It's a hard-earned title she answers to a hundred times per day. Whether she's new to the club or a seasoned professional, this delicate script 'mama' necklace is guaranteed to be a perfect fit.

$105

Superfood honey

Beekeeper's Naturals B.Powered honey

With a lack of sleep and jam-packed days, getting through the afternoon can be a real challenge. Send her a powerful pick-me-up in the form of a therapeutic blend of royal jelly, bee pollen, propolis and raw honey. It makes the ideal companion for tea, smoothies, yogurt or even on its on.

$17

Calming midnight mask with melatonin

Who doesn't deserve a reminder to pamper themself every once in awhile? Even better, this mask does all its work at night while you're sleeping with no extra effort needed. It's an amazing plant-powered antioxidant-packed mask that has melatonin, wild dandelion leaf and hyaluronic acid to rehydrate, repair and reset facial skin. It's so good, you might want to gift it to yourself. We won't tell, mama.

$68

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

Shop

Products that solve your biggest breastfeeding challenges

Including a battle plan for clogged ducts!

When expecting a baby, there is a lot you can test-run in advance: Take that stroller around the block. Go for a spin with the car seat secured in place. Learn how to use the baby carrier with help from a doll. But breastfeeding? It's not exactly possible to practice before baby's arrival.

The absence of a trial makes it all the more important to prepare in other ways for breastfeeding success—and it can be as simple as adding a few of our lactation aiding favorites to your registry.

MilkBliss chocolate chip soft baked lactation cookies

MilkBliss lactation cookies

Studies have shown the top reason women stop breastfeeding within the first year is because they are concerned about their milk supply being enough to nourish baby. Consider MilkBliss Lactation Cookies to be your secret weapon. Not only are they wholesome and delicious, but they were formulated specifically for breastfeeding moms based on the science of galactagogues—also known as milk boosters. They also come in peanut butter and wild blueberry flavors.

$23

Evereden multi-purpose healing balm

Evereden multipurpose healing balm

Also up there on the list of reasons women stop breastfeeding: the toll the early days can take on nipples. Made from just five ingredients, this all natural healing balm is ideal for soothing chafed nipples, making for a much more comfortable experience for mama as her body adjusts to the needs of a breastfeeding baby.

$20

Lansinoh milk storage bags

Lansinoh milk storage bags

For a breastfeeding mama, there are few things more precious and valuable than the milk she worked so hard to pump—and it's the stuff of nightmares to imagine it spilling out in the fridge. With these double-sealed milk storage bags, you can be assured your breastmilk is safe and sound until baby needs it.

$12.50

Belly Bandit bandita nursing bra

Belly Bandit bandita nursing bra

Nursing a baby is a 24/7 job, which calls for some wardrobe modifications. Because Belly Bandit specializes in making things more comfortable for the postpartum mama, they've truly thought of every detail—from the breathable fabric to the clips that can be easily opened with one hand.

$47

boob-ease soothing therapy pillows

Boob Ease soothing therapy pillows

For nursing moms, duct can quickly become a four-letter word when you suspect it's getting clogged. By keeping these soothing breast pillows in your breastfeeding arsenal, you can immediately go on the defense against plugged milk ducts by heating the pads in the microwave or cooling them in the freezer.

$25

Belly Bandit perfect nursing tee

Belly Bandit perfect nursing tee

A unfortunate reality of nursing is that it can really seem to limit the wardrobe options when you have to think about providing easy, discrete access. But by adding functional basics to your closet, you can feel confident and prepared for breastfeeding on the go.

$59

Bebe au Lait premium cotton nursing cover

Bebe au Lait cotton nursing cover

Nursing in public isn't every mama's cup of tea. But babies can't always wait until you've found a private place to get down to business if that's your preference. That's where a nursing cover comes in handy. This one is made from premium cotton and features a patented neckline that allows for airflow and eye contact even while you're covered.

$36

Lactation Lab basic breastmilk testing kit

Lactation Lab breastmilk testing kit

Curious to learn more about the liquid gold you're making, mama? The testing kit from Lactation Labs analyzes your breast milk for basic nutritional content like calories and protein, as well as vitamins, fatty acids and environmental toxins to help boost your breastfeeding confidence.

$99

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

Shop

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to have kids—so here’s what I did

We asked our three most pessimistic friends who have kids whether it's worth it or not

As told to Liz Tenety.

Around the time my husband and I were turning 30, we had a genuine conversation about whether or not we wanted kids. I was the hesitant one because I was like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Let's just hold on. Okay, let's talk about this. Because we love our life. We like traveling. Is this what we want?"

My husband said, "Let's ask our three most pessimistic, crabby friends who have kids whether or not it's worth it."

And every single one of them was like, "Oh, it's unmissable on planet earth."

So when I got pregnant, I was—and I'm not ashamed to say this and I don't think you should be—I was as connected with the baby in my belly as if it were a water bottle. I was like, I don't know you. I don't know what you are, but you can be some gas pain sometimes, but other than that, we're going to have to meet each other and suss this relationship out.

But all the cliches are true that you just know what to do when the baby comes out. Some of the times are hard, some of them are easier, but you just gotta use your gut.

Keep reading Show less
Life