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Kids, Holidays, and Big Emotions

Endless treats. Late nights. Overstimulation. High expectations. Of course your kid is melting down, or blowing up!! It's a lot for any adult to handle, let alone a kid. We always want our holiday season to be 'merry and bright', but the reality can be a bit less ... sparkly. The good news is, nothing has gone wrong. Emotions, even BIG emotions, are normal and natural. As the adult in the situation, you can create a beautiful, connecting, and teaching moment with your child.


It's simpler than you might think. Rather than mirroring your child's emotion with your own melt down or blow up, take the opportunity to teach your child about the emotion they are feeling at that moment. I will use anxiety as the emotion in my example, but you can just as easily do it with anger, fear, sadness, or any other emotion.

It would look something like this:

First, help her to name her emotion, “it looks like you’re feeling anxious.”

Then, normalize the emotion, “I feel anxiety too sometimes.”

Help her learn what it feels like in her body by sharing what it feels like in yours, “when I feel anxious my stomach gets tight, and my heart pounds faster. Sometimes I shiver like I am cold. What does it feel like in your body?”

This exercise will give her some authority over her emotion, and will help her to recognize it for what it is when it shows up. Doing this teaches her emotional intelligence and awareness. Now, when big emotions rise up in her, instead of acting out, she can learn to tune in. As you practice this together, you will notice that she will begin to better regulate her emotions.

I recommend doing this exercise with all the emotions, “positive” or “negative”, as they naturally occur. It's important to identify what gratitude, love, and joy feel like as well. Let her memorize the way they feel inside of her.

Sometimes, she might have a persistent, chronic emotion. There's nothing wrong with that, unless she lets the emotion take her steering wheel. Once she has become familiar with what that emotion feels like for her, you might have her give her emotion a name and talk to it, “oh, hey Betty. I thought you might show up today. You can come along with me, but I am in charge.” Again, this gives her some space between herself and her emotion.

If your child seems to be spinning in fear or anxiety, you might choose to do a worst-case scenario exercise. When she expresses concern about something that "might" happen, ask her what would happen if it did. Ask her “what is the worst that could happen if ___________?” Let her really think it through and say it out loud.

Help her to come up with her own solutions to the imagined problem. You could acknowledge that, while it might not be fun if that happened, you are confident that together you would figure it out and get through it. You might remind her of times in her past when she has already exhibited the skills she would need to use in the scenario. Express your knowledge that she is strong and capable -- and that you are on her side.

You truly could not give your child a more impactful and lasting gift than to teach her emotional intelligence and awareness. These are skills that will benefit her for her entire life.

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