How to Deal with a Highly Emotional Child

By Kathryn Hatter
Provide coping strategies to a highly emotional child.
Provide coping strategies to a highly emotional child.

When your child exhibits intense emotions in response to various circumstances, it can feel exhausting and overwhelming to parent effectively and positively. Your highly emotional child needs you to ensure she feels secure and loved, while at the same time receiving firm guidance about acceptable behaviors.

Emotional Regulation

When a person feels emotions, physical responses occur naturally, states University of Washington School of Nursing professor Carolyn Webster-Stratton, in a report posted at After physical responses occur, the next progression is behaviors in connection to the physical responses. For example, an angry child might experience increased heart and breathing rates, which then leads to behaviors such as crying or shouting. The process of emotional regulation involves the ability to control the progression of physical responses that lead to behaviors by choosing positive behaviors instead of negative ones.

Use Empathy

When a child experiences a storm of emotions, directing the child to “calm down” is often ineffective because the child is so upset that he cannot respond to a rational directive, advises psychologist Lisa Firestone, writing at Instead, reach your child by empathizing with his feelings. Showing your child that you care, understand and want to help might be an effective way to help him work through his emotions more positively. For example, you might say, "I hear how frustrated you are about tying your shoes. Oh, it’s maddening when you can’t get something to work! How about if we go get a drink and then I’ll help you figure out what’s going wrong."

Stay Calm

Your child’s high emotions can be challenging, but if you add your own intense emotions to the equation, the result might be overwhelming for both of you, warns Firestone. If you maintain composure and control of your own emotions when your child becomes upset, you might have more success in calming her down. Your positive example can be a powerful teaching tool for your child to show her how to manage her emotions. When she sees you overcoming an upsetting experience, yet remaining composed, she might strive to emulate your example.

Offer Control

Help your child understand that it’s possible to experience strong emotions without resorting to negative behaviors, suggests the PBS website. Talk about feeling anger or frustration with your child, but demonstrate how to separate the feelings from subsequent actions. For example, your child might verbalize feelings by saying, "I’m so mad right now because I want a turn on the swing!" Offer suggestions for ways to cope positively with overwhelming feelings to remain in control of actions. Your child might choose to run around the playground two times while she waits for the swing instead of engaging in a tousle with another child to get a turn. This process is likely to take ongoing encouragement and reinforcement as you help your child learn these skills.

About the Author

Kathryn Hatter is a veteran home-school educator, as well as an accomplished gardener, quilter, crocheter, cook, decorator and digital graphics creator. As a regular contributor to Natural News, many of Hatter's Internet publications focus on natural health and parenting. Hatter has also had publication on home improvement websites such as Redbeacon.