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.

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    When you ask any two mamas to share their experience with breastfeeding, you are bound to get very unique answers. That's because while the act of breastfeeding is both wonderful and natural, it also comes with a learning curve for both mothers and babies.

    In some cases, breastfeeding won't be the right path for everyone. But with the right tools, resources and social support systems, we can make progress toward the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendation to continue breastfeeding through the first year of a child's life. After all, breastfeeding helps nourish infants, protects them against illnesses, develops their immune systems and more. Not to mention that mothers who breastfeed experience reduced risk for breast and ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

    With National Breastfeeding Awareness Month this month, it's a great time for mamas (and expectant mamas!) to gather the supplies that will support their feeding journey—whether it looks like exclusively breastfeeding, pumping or combo-feeding.

    Customflow™ Double Electric Breast Pump

    Designed for regular use, this double electric breast pump allows mamas to customize the cycle and vacuum settings that work for them. The 100% SoftShape™ silicone shields on this pump form-fit to a wide range of breast shapes and sizes—which means more comfortable, more efficient pumping. And every pump comes with two complete Dr. Brown's Options+ bottles, giving you everything you need to go from pumping to feeding.


    Dr. Brown’s™ Breast Milk Collection Bottles

    There's no need to cry over spilled milk—because it won't happen with these storage bottles! Make the pump-to-feeding transition simpler with Dr. Brown's Milk Collection Bottles. The bottles adapt to Dr. Brown's electric pumps to easily fill, seal and transport, and they work with Dr. Brown's bottle and nipple parts when your baby's ready to eat. (Meaning no risky pouring from one bottle to another. 🙌)


    Breast Milk Storage Bags

    With an extra-durable design and double zip seal, your breast milk will stay fresh and safe in the fridge or freezer until it's needed. Plus, the bags are easy to freeze flat and then store for up to six months, so your baby can continue drinking breast milk long after you are done nursing.


    Silicone One-Piece Breast Pump with Options+™ Bottle & Bag

    Here's something they don't tell you about breastfeeding ahead of time: While feeding your baby on one side, the other breast may "let down" milk, too. With this one-piece Silicone Breast Pump, you don't have to let those precious drops go to waste. The flexible design makes pouring the milk into a bottle stress-free.


    Dr. Brown’s® Manual Breast Pump

    No outlet in sight? No worries! With this powerful-yet-gentle Manual Breast Pump, you can get relief from engorgement, sneak in some quick midnight pumping or perform a full pumping session without any electricity needed. With Dr. Brown's 100% silicone SoftShape™ Shield, the hand-operated pump is as comfortable as it is easy to use. Complete with Dr. Brown's® Options+™ Anti-Colic Wide-Neck Bottle, a storage travel cap and cleaning brush, consider this the breastfeeding essential for any mama who has places to go.


    Options+™ Anti-Colic Baby Bottle

    With the soft silicone nipple and natural flow design of these bottles, your baby can easily switch between breast and bottle. Clinically proven to reduce colic thanks to the vent, your baby can enjoy a happy tummy after feeding sessions—without as much spit-up, burping or gas! By mimicking the flow and feel of the breast, these bottles help support your breastfeeding experience.


    This post is sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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    7 hacks for simplifying after-school snacks

    Prepping delicious and nutritious foods shouldn't take all day.

    When you're in the middle of the school year and managing a family, each minute of time becomes very precious. Sometimes that means healthy food choices in the household can take a backseat. But don't stress it, mama. Prepping delicious and nutritious choices for the kids to munch on doesn't need to take all day.

    Remember to keep it fun, simple and interactive! Here are tips for simplifying after-school snacks once and for all:

    1. Prep snacks on Sunday

    This simple trick can make the rest of the week a breeze. Tupperware is your friend here, you can even write different days of the week on each container to give the kids a little surprise every day. I really like storage with compartments for snack prep. Personally, I slice apples, carrots or cucumbers to pair with almond butter and hummus—all great to grab and go for when you're out all day and need some fresh variety.

    2. When in doubt, go for fruit

    Fruit is always a quick and easy option. I suggest blueberries, clementine oranges, apples, frozen grapes or even unsweetened apple sauce and dried fruit, like mixed fruit. It's fun to put together a fruit salad, too. Simply cut up all the fruit options and let the kids decide how they'd like to compile. Prepped fruit is also great to have on hand for smoothies, especially when it's been sitting in the fridge for a few days—throw it in the blender with some nut milk and voila.

    3. Pair snacks with a dip

    Hummus is a great dip to keep on hand with lots of versatility or you can grab a yogurt-based dip. Easy and healthy dippers include pre-sliced veggies, baby carrots and multigrain tortilla chips. Plain hummus is a great way to introduce seasonings and spices too—shake a little turmeric, add fresh basil and you'd be surprised what your kids will take to.

    4. Have high-protein options readily available

    Snacks with high protein, like cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, hard boiled eggs and jerky will fuel kids for hours. One of my favorites is a turkey stick, which is a fun addition to the hummus platter. Just slice into bite-sized pieces. I love cottage cheese because it can go savory or sweet, use as a dip with your prepped veggies, or drizzle pure maple syrup and sprinkle with berries.

    5. Always keep the pantry stocked

    Monthly deliveries keeps the pantry updated without a trip to grocery store. Many kids are big fans of popcorn, granola and pretzels. We like to DIY our own snack packs with a little popcorn, pretzels, nuts and whatever else is in the pantry so there's always something different!

    6. Make cracker tartines

    I love the idea of replicating popular restaurant dishes for kids. Here are some of my favorite snack-sized tartines using any crisp bread, or favorite flat cracker of your choice as the base. There are no rules and kids love adding toppings and finding new combinations they love.

    • Avocado crackers: Use a cracker and then layer with thinly sliced avocado, a dollop of fresh ricotta cheese topped with roasted pepitas or sunflower seeds.
    • Tacos: The base for this is a black bean spread—just drain a can of black beans, rinse and place into a wide bowl. With a fork or potato masher, lightly smush the beans until chunky. Spread onto your cracker and top with tomato, cheddar cheese and black olives. Try out a dollop of super mild salsa or some lime zest to introduce some new flavor profiles.
    • A play on PB&J: Smear peanut butter, almond or a favorite sun butter on the cracker. I like to get a mix it up a bit and put fresh fruit (strawberries, blueberries and tiny diced apples) and a little bit of dried fruit sprinkled on top.

    7. Pre-make smoothie pops

    The easy part about meal prep is the prep itself, but knowing exactly how much to make ahead is tricky. Freeze a smoothie in popsicle molds to have a healthy treat ready-to-go snack. They're super simple to make: Add any fruit (I like apples, berries, pineapples and mangoes) and veggies (carrots, steamed beet and wilted kale) to a blender with your favorite nut milk until you have consistency just a bit thinner than a smoothie. Pour into your trusty reusable popsicle molds and then into the freezer to make an ice pop so good they could eat them for breakfast.

    Family Foodies

    15 toys that will keep your kids entertained inside *and* outside

    They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

    Keeping kids entertained is a battle for all seasons. When it's warm and sunny, the options seem endless. Get them outside and get them moving. When it's cold or rainy, it gets a little tricker.

    So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of the best toys for toddlers and kids that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, many are Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

    From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these indoor outdoor toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

    Stomp Racers

    As longtime fans of Stomp Rockets, we're pretty excited about their latest launch–Stomp Racers. Honestly, the thrill of sending things flying through the air never gets old. Parents and kids alike can spend hours launching these kid-powered cars which take off via a stompable pad and hose.


    Step2 Up and Down Rollercoaster

    Step2 Up and Down Rollercoaster

    Tiny thrill-seekers will love this kid-powered coaster which will send them (safely) sailing across the backyard or play space. The durable set comes with a high back coaster car and 10.75 feet of track, providing endless opportunities for developing gross motor skills, balance and learning to take turns. The track is made up of three separate pieces which are easy to assemble and take apart for storage (but we don't think it will be put away too often!)


    Secret Agent play set


    This set has everything your little secret agent needs to solve whatever case they might encounter: an ID badge, finger scanner, walkie-talkie handset, L-shaped scale and coloring comic (a printable file is also available for online download) along with a handy belt to carry it all along. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.


    Stepping Stones


    Kiddos can jump, stretch, climb and balance with these non-slip stepping stones. The 20-piece set can be arranged in countless configurations to create obstacle courses, games or whatever they can dream up.


    Sand play set

    B. toys Wagon & Beach Playset - Wavy-Wagon Red

    For the littlest ones, it's easy to keep it simple. Take their sand box toys and use them in the bath! This 12-piece set includes a variety of scoops, molds and sifters that can all be stored in sweet little wagon.


    Sensory play set


    Filled with sand or water, this compact-sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.


    Vintage scooter balance bike

    Janod retro scooter balance bike

    Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.


    Foam pogo stick


    Designed for ages 3 and up, My First Flybar offers kiddos who are too young for a pogo stick a frustration-free way to get their jump on. The wide foam base and stretchy bungee cord "stick" is sturdy enough to withstand indoor and outdoor use and makes a super fun addition to driveway obstacle courses and backyard races. Full disclosure—it squeaks when they bounce, but don't let that be a deterrent. One clever reviewer noted that with a pair of needle-nose pliers, you can surgically remove that sucker without damaging the base.




    Whether they're digging up sand in the backyard or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? It's made from recycled plastic milk cartons.


    Hopper ball

    Hopper ball

    Burn off all that extra energy hippity hopping across the lawn or the living room! This hopper ball is one of the top rated versions on Amazon as it's thicker and more durable than most. It also comes with a hand pump to make inflation quick and easy.


    Pull-along ducks


    There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.


    Rocking chair seesaw


    This built-to-last rocking seesaw is a fun way to get the wiggles out in the grass or in the playroom. The sturdy design can support up to 77 pounds, so even older kiddos can get in on the action.


    Baby forest fox ride-on

    janod toys baby fox ride on

    Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.


    Meadow ring toss game

    Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

    Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.


    Mini golf set

    Plan Toys mini golf set

    Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.


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


    Even 5 hours of screen time per day is OK for school-aged kids, says new study

    Researchers found screen time contributes to stronger peer relationships and had no effect on depression and anxiety. So maybe it isn't as bad as we thought?

    MoMo Productions/Getty Images

    If you've internalized some parental guilt about your own child's screen time usage, you're not alone. Numerous studies have shown that exposure to significant amounts of screen time in children leads to an increased risk of depression and behavioral issues, poor sleep and obesity, among other outcomes. Knowing all this can mean you're swallowing a big gulp of guilt every time you unlock the iPad or turn on the TV for your kiddo.

    But is screen time really that bad? New research says maybe not. A study published in September 2021 of 12,000 9- and 10-year-olds found that even when school-aged kids spend up to 5 hours per day on screens (watching TV, texting or playing video games), it doesn't appear to be that harmful to their mental health.

    Researchers found no association between screen usage and depression or anxiety in children at this age.

    In fact, kids who had more access to screen time tended to have more friends and stronger peer relationships, most likely thanks to the social nature of video gaming, social media and texting.

    The correlations between screen time and children's health

    But those big social benefits come with a caveat. The researchers also noted that kids who used screens more frequently were in fact more likely to have attention problems, impacted sleep, poorer academic performance and were more likely to show aggressive behavior.

    Without a randomized controlled trial, it's hard to nail down these effects as being caused directly by screens. The study's authors analyzed data from a nationwide study known as the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study (ABCD Study), the largest long-term study of brain development and children's health in the country. They relied on self-reported levels of screen time from both children and adults (it's funny to note that those reported numbers differed slightly depending on who was asked… ).

    It's important to remember that these outcomes are just correlations—not causations. "We can't say screen time causes the symptoms; instead, maybe more aggressive children are given screen devices as an attempt to distract them and calm their behavior," says Katie Paulich, lead author of the study and a PhD student in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience. Also worth noting is that a child's socioeconomic status has a 2.5-times-bigger impact on behavior than screens.

    Weighing the benefits with the risks will be up to you as the parent, who knows your child best. And because we live in a digital world, screens are here to stay, meaning parents often have little choice in the matter. It's impossible to say whether recreational screen time is fully "good" or "bad" for kids. It's maybe both.

    "When looking at the strength of the correlations, we see only very modest associations," says Paulich. "That is, any association between screen time and the various outcomes, whether good or bad, is so small it's unlikely to be important at a clinical level." It's all just part of the overall picture.

    A novel look at screen time in adolescents

    The researchers cite a lack of studies examining the relationship between screen time and health outcomes in this specific early-adolescence age group, which is one of the reasons why this study is so groundbreaking. The findings don't apply to younger children—or older adolescents, who may be starting to go through puberty.

    Screen time guidelines do exist for toddlers up to older kids, but up to 1.5 hours per day seems unattainable for many young adolescents, who often have their own smartphones and laptops, or at least regular access to one.

    Of course, more research is needed, but that's where this study can be helpful. The ABCD study will follow the 12,000 participants for another 10 years, following up with annual check-ins. It'll be interesting to see how the findings change over time: Will depression and anxiety as a result of screen time be more prevalent as kids age? We'll have to wait and see.

    The bottom line? Parents should still be the gatekeepers of their child's screen time in terms of access and age-appropriateness, but, "our early research suggests lengthy time on screen is not likely to yield dire consequences," says Paulich.

    Children's health

    This mama shares the raw reality of newborn quadruplets

    "Most of the day, this is where you would find me―snuggled up with four little babies."

    The early days of motherhood are as raw and real as they come, and there's no doubt that mothers of multiples feel this even more intensely. Danya is a mother of quadruplets (plus an older son), and when her children were newborns, her husband was often on the road for work. This photo, which quickly went viral after Dayna shared it on her Instagram page, Hello Quadruplets, shows an authentic snapshot of what postpartum life really looks like with multiples after her babies came home from the NICU.

    Dayna reminisces, "This one really shows the rawness of how crazy and messy the first few weeks with quadruplets is. I basically lived in bed with them back then while my husband was on the road for work. I lived off a couple hours of sleep at night between them waking up and having to pump."

    Pretty incredible, right? Exhaustion didn't prevent this mama from being prepared, however.

    Dayna writes, "I had my nightstand covered with everything I needed, my pump, milk containers, their bottles, formula, their reflux medicine, pacifiers and drinks and snacks for me. I had the bed lined with Snuggle Me beds for when I needed to pump so they didn't grab the cords. Most of the day this is where you would find me, snuggled up with four little babies."

    As the old saying goes, "the days are long, but the years are short" (why is this SO accurate?), and Dayna looks back on this time fondly.

    "I actually miss those days, they went so fast. I feel like I was destined to be a quadruplet mom. Though it was tough, I have loved every minute of it."