9 phrases that help little kids express big emotions

Sometimes we all need a little help putting feelings into words.

phrases that prevent tantrums

When your kid is in full Ron Burgundy-style "I'm in a glass case of emotion" mode, it's easy to match their level of anxiety—thanks to the crying, the screaming, the jumble of words made unintelligible because of the crying and screaming...

"For a lot of parents, when they see the meltdown, it's easy for them to notice the behavior: the falling out, the crying, the emotion," says Brandy Wells, licensed independent social worker specializing in childhood mental health and the creator of My Motherhood Magic. "But usually underneath all of that is a need that needs to be met."

Being in tune with your child's needs requires a lot of patience and communication. Yet in an attempt to calm your child as quickly as possible, you might focus on the behavior, and not whatever's causing it.

"Parents ask their children: What's wrong with you?" says Jacob Kountz, a family therapist in Bakersfield, California. "A more helpful question would be: 'Help me understand what happened.' This type of curious language primes children that they aren't being accused of something, it stays away from unhelpful language such as wrong, and it allows children to share their thoughts and feelings."

Raising thoughtful and emotionally intelligent children starts with teaching them how to share their thoughts and feelings.

The following phrases can help you teach your kids how to express themselves—and help prevent meltdowns.

1. "I can see that you are upset. You are allowed to feel that way. I'm here when you're ready to talk."

Raena Boston, a mom of two boys ages two and four, says this phrase helps her affirm her sons' feelings. "It reminds me that I don't have to rush them through their feelings," she explains.

Why it works: Letting your child know that you see them—that it's okay to have feelings and that you're there for them—helps them feel safe. And having that safety gets them out of melting down and into communicating.

2. "I would feel [insert emotion] if that happened to me, too."

"Phrases like 'That does sounds upsetting' or 'I would feel that way too,' let children know that it makes sense for them to feel that way and it's not bad to have feelings," says Linda Kudla, a licensed clinical psychologist in New York and Massachusetts with expertise in children and adolescents.

Why it works: "When kids know that someone isn't going to tell them to feel differently or that their feelings are wrong, they'll seek out that kind of comfort more often," Kudla explains.

3. "I see that you had a hard time with [x], what can we do to make it easier next time?"

This phrase has worked wonders for Stepha LaFond, a New York City-based mom coach and mother of two. "My 5-year-old likes to have autonomy," she explains. So when her daughter gets frustrated, LaFond encourages her to come up with solutions. "She lights up thinking about solutions and is excited to follow through with it," LaFond says.

Why it works: Encouraging kids to come up with their own strategies for dealing with frustration is part of a strategy that social worker and mom of three Brandy Wells calls FLIP IT: Identify the feeling (that's the F), then if needed, set an appropriate limit for how to express the feeling (for example, "it's okay to cry, but we don't hit"). I stands for inquiry, encouraging kids to come up with solutions and strategies of their own. "And then P is prompting—helping them problem-solve," Wells explains. "You want them to practice asking, 'What do I need to do?' And if they're not able to do that, then you are able to give them that assistance."

Thanks to this practice, Wells's daughter has learned that drinking water helps her calm down. "So when she has a meltdown, she's really good about saying, 'I just need my drink of water,' Wells says.

4. "Your words help me understand you better."

You know those meltdowns that are more tears than words? Samareua Pope, a pre-med student and mom of one, uses this phrase to help her daughter use her words. This phrase helps remind older children who have grown past the preverbal toddler years that words can be a powerful way to release their feelings—and to get help if they need it.

"I make sure to reassure her that crying is okay, but I simply can't assist if I don't know what's going on," Pope explains. "It's interesting to see how quickly my daughter will switch gears from crying to speaking. I've found that speaking with her calmly and asking her to express herself has not only helped her to grow emotionally, but her vocabulary has enhanced as well. I'll encourage her to make a complete sentence. It works wonders and she feels much better afterwards."

Why it works: Pope's daughter knows she has the power to make herself heard and understood through her words. Imagine teaching that powerful, empowering lesson to your kiddo!

5. "It seems like you're having a hard time finding the words to explain what you're feeling. Is there another way that you can show me what's going on?"

"My son has big feelings and can be what most people perceive as sensitive," says dance and movement psychotherapist Jennifer Sterling. "It's often difficult for him to find his words right away, so asking him to draw something or use colors that represent how he's feeling, or inviting him to move with me in ways that help him explore what he might be feeling is something we use regularly."

Why it works: Kids don't always have to "use their words" to be understood, and listening isn't the only tool parents have to understand their children's needs. "Creative expression has been an incredible tool for us," says Sterling.

6. "I'm your mother, but I don't live in your body. What does it feel like? What's your brain feeling?"

Feelings don't happen in a vacuum—they live in our bodies. Yetunde Rubinstein uses this phrase to help her daughters (ages 10 and 12) realize the power of self-awareness. "They know what hurts, what feels off, even if they can't explain why," Rubinstein says.

Camille Trummer, a fellow mom of two, guides her 5-year-old daughter to use the sentence structure "My heart feels [blank]. My body feels [blank]" with the same intention.

Why it works: This phrase can help teach your children about the mind and body connection, and can also help you as a parent to separate the behavior from the child—they're not being bad, they're trying to communicate about what feels bad.

"When your child bangs his fist on the table, you have the urge to correct him, but you know that's not really going to fix the problem," says Tamar Chansky, a child psychologist and founder of the Children's and Adult Center for OCD and Anxiety in Pennsylvania. "Instead of discipline, say, 'Your body is saying something with those fists, what is it saying? Can you ask them?'"

7. "What color are you right now?"

Assigning feelings to colors is done in cartoons (hello, Inside Out!), marketing, and also as a common therapeutic strategy for children. "Green can be calm and ready to learn, yellow means starting to lose control, red means out of control, and blue would be tired or low energy," explains Amy Rollo, a psychotherapist and founder of Heights Family Counseling in Houston, Texas. "No zone is labeled as good or bad, but as expected or unexpected."

You can also work with your child to develop a color system that's unique to them, assigning colors to emotions such as sadness, excitement, fear, anger, and shame.

Then add in body awareness by asking your kiddo where they feel those emotions on their bodies, suggests Sarvenaz Sepehri, a California-based licensed clinical psychologist. "For example: fear might show up in [the] stomach when one gets butterflies in their tummy, or happiness might get expressed by how fast one's heart beats," she says.

Why it works: "Children begin to make the mind-body connection, as well as learn appropriate coping skills," Rollo says.

8. "Let's take a deep breath. Look in the mirror, wipe your face and straighten your clothes."

"I know that sometimes even as an adult I need a moment alone to pull myself together," says pre-med mom Samareua Pope. "I want to encourage my daughter to be fearless and to face things head on, which is why I implement the looking-in-the-mirror portion of this phrase. This works the best because nine times out of 10 she comes back with a dry face and an eager attitude to work through what may have just been happening."

Why it works: This phrase is like a reset button for kids, teaching them how to center themselves and move past the meltdown.

Deep breathing is a coping mechanism that works across all age groups—taking a deep breath in and a long exhale helps with getting grounded. A sweet way to teach your child how to do this is by saying, "Smell the flowers, blow out the candles."

9. "I'm going to go fishing...tell me if I caught anything!"

"If you have a child who is reluctant to say anything about feelings, you can say, 'I'm going to go fishing. I'm going to name something that someone might be feeling now, and you tell me if I caught anything,'" says child psychologist Tamar Chansky. "The parent can mime casting a fishing line and offer a feeling—'I'm mad because I keep missing the net when I try to shoot a basket'—then say, 'Did I catch anything?' If not, try another feeling," she says.

Why it works: "Eventually parents 'catch' the right feeling their child has," Chansky says, "or sometimes, just having the conversation helps kids figure out what they need. At the very least they appreciate your efforts at valuing their feelings and trying to help them express them."

None of these phrases and strategies are one-time fixes, but they can all be part of an ongoing conversation between you and your kids. Give your kids the space to provide answers and solutions themselves, and they'll grow to understand how to express their feelings and emotions—even the tough ones.

As much as I love fall, it always feels like the season when my family's routine gets kicked into overdrive. With our oldest in (homeschool) kindergarten, my youngest on the brink of entering her twos, work, housework and *all the things* filling my day, it's hard not to feel a little overwhelmed sometimes. Did I mention we're still in a pandemic? (Yeah, it's a lot.) And while I try to take a positive view as much as I can, now more than ever I definitely jump at the chance to take anything off my busy plate.

One thing first in line at the chopping block? Cooking. To be fair, I like cooking. I cooked most of our meals long before I had ever even heard of social distancing. But there's something about the pandemic that suddenly made cooking every single meal feel exponentially more draining.

Enter Daily Harvest. They deliver nourishing, delicious food right to your door. Daily Harvest's mix of smoothies, bowls, flatbreads, snacks and more provide a balanced, whole food options that are as satisfying as they are nutritious. But my favorite part? When we're ready to eat, I simply pull the food from the freezer and it's ready in minutes—without any chopping, measuring or searching for a recipe. Even better, they're incredibly tasty, meaning I'm not struggling to get my girls to dig in. Not cooking has never felt so good.

Here are my 8 favorite products that are helping to lighten my load right now:

Mulberry + Dragonfruit Oat Bowl

Mulberry + Dragonfruit Oat Bowl

One thing that actually helps break up the monotony of quarantine? Trying and introducing new ingredients to my family. I love this overnight oat bowl (add milk the night before and let it set in your fridge overnight—easy-peasy!) because not only does it not compromise on nutrition, but it also helps me bring new whole fruits, vegetables and superfoods to the table with ease.

Mint + Cacao Smoothie

Mint + Cacao Smoothie

I kid you not, these taste exactly like a mint chocolate chip milkshake. (Just ask my 4-year-old, who is constantly stealing sips from my glass.) What she doesn't know? She's actually getting organic banana, spinach and chlorella with every sip. #momwin

Kabocha + Sage Flatbread

Kabocha + Sage Flatbread

Our family's eating habits have been leaning more plant-forward this year, which often means a lot of veggie washing, peeling and chopping every time I cook. That's why these flatbreads are my new best friend come lunchtime. This Kabocha + Sage Flatbread is made with a gluten-free cauliflower crust topped with kabocha squash, fennel and sage for a taste of fall in every bite. (Missing the cheese? You can add it before baking for more of a pizza feel.)

Kale + Sweet Potato Flatbread

Kale + Sweet Potato Flatbread

There's something about the combination of sweet potato crust topped with red cabbage, organic greens and an herby-cilantro sauce that is so delicious… like surprisingly delicious. I polished off this bad boy in seconds! And unlike other "veggie" crusts I've tried, these are actually clean (AKA no fillers, preservations, partially-hydrogenated oil or artificial anything). Plus, it couldn't be easier to throw in the oven between conference calls and homeschool lessons.

Cacao + Avocado Smoothie

Cacao + Avocado Smoothie

Any time I get to serve a breakfast that tastes like chocolate, it's a good day. (That goes double when it's *my* breakfast.) This rich, chocolatey smoothie is packed with organic zucchini, avocado, pumpkin seeds and pea protein for a nourishing mix of healthy fats and muscle-building protein so I can carry that baby all day long. And did I mention the chocolate?

Vanilla Bean + Apple Chia Bowl

Vanilla Bean + Apple Chia Bowl

Maybe it's just me, but after a long week of cooking, the last thing I want to do on Saturday morning is...wake up and cook. That's why these one-step breakfasts are saving my weekend. I simply add our favorite milk the night before and store the bowl in the fridge overnight. Come morning, I have a nutritious chia bowl that powers me through even the busiest day of errands. It's also Instagram-ready, which makes me feel like I'm out brunching (even if I can't remember the last time I was in a restaurant).

Cacao Nib + Vanilla Bites

Cacao Nib + Vanilla Bites

My kids have turned into snack monsters during quarantine, and I'm often struggling to find a wholesome option (that doesn't require a lot of extra cooking or else I resort to something ultra-refined and shelf-stable). These bites are the hero I never knew I needed. For one, they taste like cookie dough, but they're actually packed with chickpeas, pumpkin, dates and flax seed (among other whole ingredients). But unlike actual cookie dough, I don't have to go anywhere near my mixer to whip them up—all I have to do is pull the container out of the freezer, let them defrost a bit and we can all enjoy a treat.

Cauliflower Rice + Pesto Harvest Bowl

Cauliflower Rice + Pesto Harvest Bowl

Sometimes I have a little more time to cook, but I still want a quick, stress-free solution. (Especially because it always feels like I just cleaned up from the last meal.) I love these Harvest Bowls because they warm up in under five minutes on the stove top (or microwave!) but pack tons of flavor. The Cauliflower Rice + Pesto bowl is one of my favorites, with basil, olive oil and nutritional yeast for a hearty dish reminiscent of a mouth-watering Italian meal. When I'm feeling extra fancy, I add leftover grilled chicken or a fried egg.

Strawberry + Rich, Rippled Berry Compote Scoops

Strawberry + Rich, Rippled Berry Compote Scoops

Who doesn't want to end the day with a little something sweet? This creamy and decadent frozen treat from Daily Harvest is swirled with sweet berries and tropical dragonfruit for an antioxidant burst you'll feel good about—but that your kiddos will just think is ice cream. Go ahead, take credit for being the best mom ever.

Want to try it yourself? You can get $25 off your first box of Daily Harvest with code MOTHERLY.

This article was sponsored by Daily Harvest. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas

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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.


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.


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.


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.


The Snoo bassinet


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!


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.


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!


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.


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.


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


A few years ago, while my wife's baby bump got bigger and my daddy reading list grew longer, I felt cautiously optimistic that this parenthood thing would, somehow, suddenly click one day. The baby would come, instincts would kick in, and the transition from established couple to a new family would be tiring but not baffling.

Boy was I wrong.

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