Helping Children Deal with Emotions

How to Help Teens Deal With Emotions

Make time for you and your teen to have regular conversations. Whether you chat at dinner, talk in the car or have a weekly date for catching up, talking gives your teen an emotional outlet.

Help your teen learn feeling words and "I" statements. When you ask how school's going, help her recognize her part in her emotions. Instead of "Mr. Smith is flunking me because he hates me!" you can encourage statements such as, "I feel like I'm picked on because I have trouble understanding the work." Regular chats like that can help you understand what your teen is really feeling and help her voice her emotions and concerns.

Ask the right questions to get more out of your regular conversations. Teens can sometimes clam up and give short answers to questions along the lines of, "How was your day?" Instead, try "What was your favorite part of the day?" or "What do you like most about that boy you have a crush on?" Your teen might seem embarrassed at first, but it'll help open a channel of conversation between you when she can vent her emotions and talk about what she's facing.

Encourage your teen to participate in activities that let her express herself emotionally. Taking an art class, getting involved in sports, writing in a journal or playing a musical instrument can help her deal with her emotions in a creative way.

Model emotional health for your teen. When you have specific emotions, tell your teen how you're dealing with them. Say, "I'm really stressed, so I'm going to take a walk around the block" or "I'm frustrated with your brother, so we're going to talk." Your teen will learn from your example, so be conscious of what she's learning from the way you deal with your own emotions.

Schedule an appointment with your family doctor if you feel your teen's emotional health is suffering. A lack of motivation, social withdrawal, not caring for people or activities, sadness, a change in grades, weight or appearance, or low self-esteem can all be signs of teen emotional distress, according to Your teen's doctor can refer you to a mental health professional who can help improve your teen's emotional and mental health.

Causes of Negative Emotions in Adolescents


Self-imposed demands or pressures from teachers or parents to get good grades, expectations from coaches to perform well, finding and keeping friends and romantic relationships are examples of stressful events in a teen's life that can potentially bring out negative emotions. Openly expressing hostility toward parents or going out of their way to avoid them and ditching old friendships to seek out a new group of friends can be warning signs that a teen is under a significant amount of stress, explains KidsHealth, a website published by the Nemours Foundation.

Feeling Overwhelmed

Emotionally intense pressures such as struggling to heal a broken heart or grieving the death of a loved can overwhelm a teen with negative feelings and emotions. Days jam packed with activities like sports, choir, band, or simply making time for friends can weigh heavy on a teen's shoulder, as well, leading to stress overload and negative emotions. Making time to slow down and relax can help improve a teen’s outlook.

Identity Issues

Teens are busy trying to carve out their unique identity and self-image. On the one hand, a teen wants to be treated like an adult and have the right to make his own decisions; on the other hand, such freedoms may feel like too much to handle. Concerns over fitting in and being accepted by peers can seem like a matter of life or death during adolescence. Disgruntled teens may think or say negative things about themselves such as "Everybody hates me" or I'm so stupid."

Hormonal Influences

The hormonal changes experienced during puberty appear to cause both physical and emotional changes including mood swings, notes KidsHealth. A teen's emotions may be negative one moment and positive the next. However, not everyone agrees that puberty effects emotions. Reed Larson, Ph.D., professor in the department of Human and Community Development at the University of Illinois, suggests that teens display similar emotional states before, during and after puberty. A teen's mood tends to be more positive when he spends time with friends and family, but is more sullen when he's alone, according to Larson.

Potential Problems

Negative emotions are linked to problem behaviors, explains Teens may handle stress and accompanying negative emotions in different ways. One adolescent may become extremely upset and take out his negative emotions on others. Another teen might keep his feelings to himself, which can lead to alcohol or drug problems and eating disorders.

How to Help Children Control Their Negative Behaviors

Create a stable and predictable lifestyle for your child, recommends Carolyn Webster-Stratton, Ph.D. and author of “Helping Children Learn to Regulate Their Emotions” for the University of Washington. This includes instituting clear rules of conduct, enforcing the rules with specific consequences, and providing your child with a regular routine of activities, eating and sleeping. Stability and predictability both foster security for children.

Establish a consistent routine to help your child regain control over his emotions after he loses control. You might designate a quiet spot where your child goes to sit when he becomes angry and lashes out. You might also create a signal -- a phrase you say or a gesture you perform -- that tells your child that he needs to take a breather to calm down. For best results, don’t use this time-out punitively; instead approach it as a positive way for your child to regain control. The KidsHealth website recommends allowing your child to get up as soon as he's calm again.

Reduce the attention you give to your child’s emotional outbursts. Children often scream, yell and cry loudly when they feel angry, scared and hurt. If you can check your response to your child’s emotions, you can remove any reinforcement you may unwittingly be giving the behavior. Deborah Richardson, Child Development Assistant Specialist with Oklahoma State University, advises that children may misbehave to receive negative attention from parents.

Practice empathy with your child when he experiences negative emotions. Strive to stay calm, even when your child acts out. Instead, extend caring and understanding to help your child feel your support. Resist the urge to judge or criticize your child as you extend empathy.

Provide words for your child to name his feelings, suggests Giving each feeling a name helps your child learn to identify and process his emotions more effectively. You might say, “I can hear that you are really frustrated right now. That must feel a little overwhelming.”

Explain what’s unacceptable to your child so he understands. It’s normal to feel anger and frustration, but it’s unacceptable to hurt people or damage property when he feels these emotions. Tell your child that you will help him manage and express his feelings if he will listen as you provide guidance.

How to Deal with a Highly Emotional Child

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.

Sensory Activities for Children Who Are Angry

Physical Activities

Physical activity allows your child to use his body to either express his emotions, expel the anger he is feeling or transform the feeling into something else. Running, jumping, dancing, stomping and kicking a ball around are kid-friendly options to let off steam. Using a trampoline, swings or riding toys also work. If you want something more low-key, offer to massage his feet, hands, shoulders or back. Having him sit in front of a fan can be soothing, too.

Sensory Table

Sensory tables allow your child to sink his fingers into the experience and allow him to purge his emotions in a safe way. Play dough, cookie cutters, a small rolling pin and a play hammer work very well for this type of activity. You can also fill a shallow plastic bin with cut up sponges, foam pieces, paper scraps, bubble foam, water or sand. Small toy cars, plastic animals or plastic figurines can be added to the sensory table for more play options.

Art Activities

A bin of art supplies can be stowed away and pulled out when your child is angry or upset. Craft paper and nontoxic acrylic paints make for an expressive finger-painting exercise. Scented markers and plain white paper offer plenty of opportunities to let out his emotions in a constructive way. Yarn, fabric scraps, construction paper, kid’s scissors and a glue stick can transform his emotions into art.

Edible Activities

The University of New Mexico Center for Development and Disability suggests incorporating oral stimulation for self-control and regulation. According to the UNM site, chewing can organize his thoughts and feelings, sucking can calm him and eating crunchy foods can make him more alert. For instance, you can offer gum to a child over the age of four and allow him to chew on it for a while when he’s angry. A fruit popsicle or lollipop can soothe him as he sucks on it. Carrot sticks and celery sticks are crunchy options for kids older than age 4.

Helping Hateful Teenagers

Talking With your Teen

Find a time of relative calmness when you and your teenager can talk about the hateful behavior and angry feelings he’s been exhibiting. Michael Craig Miller, an M.D. with Harvard Health Publications, advises approaching your child to communicate your love and concern. Without judging or attacking, which might put your child on the defensive, tell your child that you perceive and have witnessed concerning behavior that indicates his angry feelings. Counterbalance your statement by also telling your child that you won’t pry or interfere, but that you are always available to help if he wants it.

Recognize and Pinpoint Anger

When your child exhibits angry feelings and emotions, help your child recognize them by calling attention to them. You might say, “You sound really angry right now and I can understand that.” Although so simple, this sentence teaches your child to recognize angry feelings, lends validity to your child’s feelings and helps her accept them, states the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission. Your empathy can be the starting point toward your child managing her emotions more effectively.

Managing Emotions

Once you help your child recognize anger, it’s time to help him work through it positively and effectively instead of allowing it to exude hateful energy from him. Managing emotions can help your teenager avoid physical altercations, negative body language and angry verbalization. Help your teen see that removing himself from a provocative situation by walking away can be an effective way to give himself some cooling off time. Once cooled off, he’ll be better able to discuss his feelings, approach people to problem-solve and work toward a solution.

Dangerous Anger

Some teenagers may experience uncontrollable anger, during which the teen threatens violence, engages in violence against others or destroys property, warns the Harvard Medical School. If you witness uncontrollable anger and hatred in your teen, seek professional help immediately. Your teenager may need intervention and crisis counseling. Your teenager may also need psychological treatment for an aggression disorder that afflicts some adolescents. Anger can also be a manifestation of depression, states Miller. If you determine that your teenager suffers from depression, seek professional help immediately.