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6 ways to help kids deal with negative emotions


All children have negative emotions from time to time. Helping them deal effectively with those emotions can help them grow into emotionally intelligent adults.

“When you see kids learn to label their feelings, they can navigate the world more effectively. The emotions don’t run their behavior. They can begin to choose their behavior in spite of strong emotions,” says Dr. Lorna Hecker, a professor in Purdue University Northwest’s Marriage and Family Therapy Program and director of its Couple and Family Therapy Center. Hecker offers the following tips for parents:

  1. Helping your child work through emotions is a constant process of labeling the emotion, reflecting the emotion so the child feels heard, and then helping the child figure out how to respond to those feelings.
  2. Communicate to your child that a range of emotions is acceptable. Being angry, for example, is OK, but destroying your toys is not.
  3. You want your children to be able to understand the range of their emotions, and to not see any particular emotion as “bad.” At the same time, you need to set limits on behavior. If your child says, “I hate Jimmy,” instead have her say, “Jimmy makes me really angry."
  4. Remember, emotions are just emotions; they are not actions. If your child threatens Jimmy, that is an unacceptable behavior. These types of situations are teaching opportunities that give your child the chance to develop emotional literacy.
  5. Listening to a child validates them, and lets them know they are worthy, just as it does for adults.
  6. A child’s frustrations won’t come from a job or spouse. They will come from playing and friends. These may seem like non-problems to us, but in their world, they are big problems.