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9 Ways to Help Your Child Cope with Big Feelings

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Does your child have big feelings or reactions about things that seem like no big deal to you? Does every new activity or change to the schedule result in a big meltdown? This happens to a lot of kids, so you are not alone.

In this article, I’ll share a list of ways to help your child cope with big feelings, some resources I recommend, and how you can help yourself too (often these big feelings bring up triggers for the parents as well!).

Read on for this list, and if you’ve made it here in search of toddler activities near you or mommy and me yoga classes, you can skip right to this page if you’d like.

9 Ways to Help Your Child Cope with Big Feelings

  1. Teach your child to breathe

    1. While your child already breathes on their own, they will find benefit if they can learn to strategically breathe; that is, to use the breath as a tool to calm big feelings down.

    2. This takes practice, often in calm moments, for it to work in an emotionally escalated situation. You’ll want to try various tactics at home, practicing together. We do this in my Kids Yoga classes and make it really fun. More often than not, they don’t know that I’m trying to teach them ways to calm down. BUT, they are learning tactics (as are the parents who join) to try when they need it.

    3. Here are a few playful ways to teach your child to use their breath to calm down:

      1. Lion breath – Breathe in, roar (as the exhale)

      2. Hot/cold breath – see how you can control the temperature of your breath (video here)

      3. Breathing ball – use this tool to show them how to take deep breaths and feel their ribs expanding and contracting (video here)

    4. For more on the benefits of breathing for adults, you can read this post here.

  2. Read stories about emotions and feelings Please note that, while I only recommend things I believe in, the below links are paid links. Thank you for supporting me if you decide to purchase!

    1. Kids learn through stories! It makes for a less intense way to learn if they can watch another kid (in the story) experience a situation and see how they deal with it.

    2. We read a story in each of my Kids Yoga classes because it’s the best way IMO to help the kids understand more about feelings without putting a lot of pressure on them to talk about their own feelings (which, btw, they might not have all the words for…so when you read, you also give them new language to use.)

    3. A few of my favorites are below:

      1. And for the adults – Atlas of the Heart by Brene Brown. This one is huge for giving us (yes, adults!) more language on expressing our feelings. When we can express ourselves better, we can teach our kids to express themselves better 🙂

  3. Get your child moving

    1. A little movement is good for us all! When I have a tense situation in my house (my twins are currently about 4.5 years old, but we’ve been doing this since they could stand), I like to turn on some music. We used to always ask Alexa to turn on the Jackson 5 (“ABC”, usually) and move ourselves around. Not only does it diffuse the tension (hello, sibling fighting), but also it helps kids to calm down and reset the mood. You can still come back to talking about what happened later, and this conversation will go better once everyone is calm.

    2. Aside from dance parties at home, I also love yoga (of course, my Kids Yoga classes are an option), even if it’s just doing a few fun poses with the kids at home. Pretend to be an animal or get some yoga flashcards and see if you all can make your bodies look like the cards.

    3. My kids currently love obstacle courses and playing “the floor is lava” – which are great movement activities to calm the nervous system. You can even search on YouTube for preschool movement songs, and there are a lot of great options of songs that give the kids movement instructions as part of the song.

  4. Be playful with your kid

    1. I think kids are just the best at pretend play. It’s so cool to watch them enter a new world, and when you enter that world with them, you strengthen the connection between you and help them expand their creativity and use their imagination. In calm times, you can do this in combination with breath practices or movement activities (pretending you are animals or superheroes or princesses or whatever they are currently interested in). We do this in my Kids Yoga classes by pretending to be airplanes when we do Warrior 3 or flamingoes for a version of Tree pose.

    2. If you want to use playfulness when the situation has bigger feelings involved, first be sure that you are connecting with your kid and validating their experience/emotions. For example, if they are mad because you had to tell them not to stand on the coffee table, you would first validate that you see they are mad and acknowledge that it is really hard and even that it might feel really hard to be a kid sometimes. Then you could try some version of “that was really tough, I’m glad we talked through that. Do you think superheroes are that tough? I wonder if we have any superheroes here who could jump really high from the ground instead?” – change the pretend part to be applicable to your child, and give them something they CAN do. I’ve often found myself in situations where I’m trying to reason with my preschool kids (not sure why I think this will work ha), and the mood instantly shifts when I enter a playful place instead.

  5. Guided play with toys during a calm time

    1. This is another version of pretend play, one in which you guide the play a bit more. You can act out what happens when one of the toys experiences a situation that causes them to have big feelings. This gives you a chance to see how your kid responds and also demonstrate a few different ways the toy could respond. It lets them process (and lets you learn about your kid) in a non-threatening way, and you may find that they work it out on their own. If not, it will give you information for how to talk through things with them that they may not tell you when they experience a similar situation to the one the toy encountered.

  6. Sing with your kids and get them singing too (vagus nerve and play)

    1. I believe in the power of music to elicit all kinds of emotions in people. This is true for kids too! You don’t have to have a “good” voice or stay in tune to do this with your kids, so don’t hold back if you’re feeling nervous. When we sing (or even exhale loudly), we stimulate the vagus nerve, which helps us to tap into the parasympathetic nervous system and calm down. I like to use songs in Kids Yoga classes because it also helps kids learn the content a little better. So we’ll sing quiet songs and loud songs to help us practice our volume and big breathing.

    2. Some of my favorite songs for kid engagement:

      1. Icky sticky bubble gum

      2. Down by the bay (take turns making up the “have you ever seen a …” part)

      3. If all the rain drops

      4. Songs for Littles on YouTube has lots of great ideas too

  7. Build frustration tolerance

    1. This one is tricky, and I’ll admit I’m working on it in this season of life (both for my kid and myself ha!). When we get frustrated, it can be hard to bring yourself back down from the frustration, and doing so is a learned skill. So you can work with your kid to build their tolerance for things not going as expected, bit by bit.

    2. First, you can model the way to do it by acknowledging what’s happening when something is frustrating you. Say out loud what you’re feeling and thinking and what you’re going to do next.

    3. Second, you can work on it with your kids when you make mistakes around them. Sometimes it can feel easier to ignore the mistake and try to move on, especially if you know your kid will have a meltdown if they realize what’s happened. But in this strategy, you might try calling attention to it and then be prepared to help them through the wave of feelings that may start to overcome them.

    4. For example, let’s say you accidentally tear the sticker you’re helping them to peel off. Instead of jumping straight to the solution – getting a new sticker or taping the old sticker (yes, I do this) – say “oh no, I made a mistake, now the sticker is torn. I feel really sad about this, what could we do to help make it better?” Support your child through their response, but they may also just watch you and how you decide to handle it. Ask them for their ideas on how to fix it or what to do next. Then get the tape ;)

  8. Give them control

    1. This is an idea I got from parenting expert Dr. Becky Kennedy, so I can’t take credit for it. But I think it’s such a great one that I want to credit her for it and mention it here so you can 1) try it out, and 2) follow her for more great ideas. The basic idea is to play a game where, for a set amount of time, the child is in control. They get to tell you what to do. You can set rules, such as they can’t tell you to do anything unsafe (and anything else you feel is an absolute no). Then let them have a chance to feel in charge. A lot of big feelings erupt when kids feel out of control, so giving them a chance to be in control can help them find that place if they need it and help to balance out all the other times they aren’t in control.

  9. Ride the wave of feelings

    1. This one is going to sound like a cop-out, but it’s a real strategy recommended by Dr Becky (can you tell I’m a fan?). For this strategy, you simply sit with them when feelings have grown too big. Get down to their eye level and let them know you are there when they are ready. When the wave of big feelings passes, you can talk with them about what happened and how it felt for them. That connection point is a big deal for the kids (and maybe it will be for you too). There’s a concept that Dr. Becky talks about a lot, and I really like it – your child is a good kid, who is struggling. We need to support them and give them the skills they need to express what’s going on. Remembering this can help you find the patience in the middle of a wave of feelings to support them.


Please note that, while I only recommend things I believe in, the below links are paid links. Thank you for supporting me if you decide to purchase!

  1. Parenting expert Dr. Becky Kennedy (I especially recommend her Good Inside membership which includes a good section of content on Deeply Feeling Kids). She also has a book, Good Inside. Both include various “scripts” (words you can use in different situations to help your kids calm), in addition to the reasoning and research behind those methods. She has a podcast too.

  2. Parenting expert Tina Bryson and neuropsychiatrist Dan Siegel, co-authors of many books, including The Whole Brain Child and No Drama Discipline. They emphasize connection first and help explain how to help your child integrate the parts of their brain for emotional development.

  3. Big Little Feelings - this is a group that I don’t have direct experience with, but I hear a lot of great things from friends. They offer a free discipline guide as well as a big little feelings course and a potty training course.

  4. Local play therapy - you can search for a child therapist near you who offers play therapy, but if you’re in the Dallas area, here are a few I’ve heard good reviews of: Mend Counseling, East Dallas Therapy, Oakhouse Counseling, Insights Therapy, and Jay and Amy Wright Counseling.

For YOU (the parent):

Please note that, while I only recommend things I believe in, the below links are paid links. Thank you for supporting me if you decide to purchase!

  1. Dr. Becky Kennedy - yes, for parents too! She has workshops in her membership on Reparenting (examining your triggers), and a lot of her suggestions for working with your kids are easily translatable to working on yourself and with other adults. Here are the links again for the Good Inside membership and book.

  2. Tina Bryson and Dan Siegel - yes, again! For parents too. Especially The Whole Brain Child because it explains how the parts of the brain are integrated, which is something adults can work to do too.

  3. Local therapist - you’ll likely see someone different than your child might, but seeing a great therapist is healthy for everyone. Even if you consider it as more of a “maintenance” type appointment, you’ll learn a lot along the way. You can search for a therapist near you (and add an area of speciality if you have one; for example, anxiety, parent coaching, postpartum, high achievers, etc.), and if you’re in the Dallas area, here are a few to consider: Mend Counseling, Carol Blanchard, Gregg Medlyn, Amy Wright.

  4. Yoga/mindfulness practices - if you’ve tried yoga before and haven’t liked it, I’d like to encourage you to try it again. It incorporates mind and body and can be great for connecting the two, helping you gain strength physically, and bringing awareness to your mind about what’s going on in your body (essential when managing your own emotions).

    1. What I’ve found is that the studio, the type of class, and the teacher ALL influence the yoga experience. A studio or teacher can be easygoing or rigid, speak more melodically or naturally, and any of these differences can make you feel at home at the studio or possibly uncomfortable (although that’s not anyone’s goal!). The studio I teach at is Lotus Yoga Dallas, and I’d love to see you join my class sometime!

    2. There are also different types of yoga, such as Deep Stretch, Vinyasa Flow, Hot Yoga, etc. Feel free to call the studio you’re considering to see what the class is like and the overall vibe.

    3. If you decide yoga isn’t your thing, or perhaps in addition, you might consider meditation (lots of free apps you can try!) or mindfulness exercises to bring connection between your brain and body.

  5. Something that fills you up - this is going to take a little introspection. So often we do things in life that we HAVE to do or that we think we want to do, but then the schedule fills and it can make something fun, not feel so fun. I recommend making yourself a list. Include something you do (or used to do) that makes you feel relaxed, something you do that makes you smile, and something that gives you energy. What do you need to add these into your schedule? Is there anything you can eliminate from your routine to enable these things to happen? You can’t pour into your kids without being filled first, so remember this is that important! :)

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