5 Steps to Managing Big Emotions: Printable Poster
Whenever I ask parents what their biggest parenting struggle is, patience is always right there at the top of the list. We struggle to keep our cool in all sorts of situations – when we are rushing to get everyone out the door, when we have asked our child 272 times to do something, when they whine and whinge, when siblings squabble, and the list goes on. Often it is when our children are having the most trouble keeping their cool that we also lose ours. Which we all know is pretty unhelpful in the scheme of things, especially as our children are watching and learning from everything we do. And managing big emotions is hard when you are two or four or six or sixteen. In fact at times it can be hard, whatever age you are!
Being prepared with a strategy for helping children through those times when they are experiencing big or overwhelming emotions such as anger, frustration, jealousy or embarrassment, is one way to help both you and them to work through those emotions more effectively. It’s not about teaching our children that their emotions aren’t important or valid, or that they must be hidden or suppressed, but it is about helping them to find socially acceptable ways to express and deal with their emotions – most importantly, in ways that don’t hurt others.
Download and print Free Printable Poster Here: 5 Steps to Managing Big Emotions Printable Poster for Kids
I like the idea of developing a ‘Calm Down Plan’ with your child (or children) so that they have a plan to work through when they do feel upset or out of control, and think the following five steps provide a great place to start.
5 Steps to Managing Big Emotions
1. Remind myself that it is never okay to hurt others.
It is important to set clear guidelines about what is acceptable and what is not. In our house, we are not allowed to hurt or be destructive to others or their property. That includes hurting others with our words.
2. Take 3 deep breaths or count slowly to 10.
Helping children to understand that these big feelings are completely normal but it is their reaction and actions as a result of those feelings that can hurt others (and ultimately, ourselves), is an important part of the calm down plan. Taking a few deep breaths or slowly counting to ten gives the child time to recognise their body’s warning signs – whether they be a tense body, clenched teeth or racing heart. When making a plan, talk with your child about how their body feels when they are angry or frustrated and then introduce the idea of taking a few breaths to compose themselves and to form a better course of action then striking out at another person.
3. Use my words to say how I feel and what I wish would happen.
Acknowledging the big feelings recognises that these feelings are legitimate and important and saying what they wish would happen helps to open a problem solving conversation. Of course, what they wish would happen won’t always be an acceptable solution for all parties, and this can often be a difficult lesson for children to learn (and virtually impossible for very young children to learn) and they will often need support to work out a more peaceful solution, especially when they are used to striking out when they feel big emotions.
4. Ask for help to solve the problem.
As an adult I often find talking through a problem really helps me to process it, and children will often need support as they learn to problem solve and find solutions in social situations. Let your child know that it is okay to ask for help when they don’t feel that they can solve the problem and keep these important channels of communication open, so that one day when they are working on much bigger problems than a spat with a sibling or frustration with a friend, they feel that they can always come to you for help.
5. Take the time I need to calm down.
Let your child know that sometimes they just won’t feel that the solution proposed is enough and that they may still feel angry or upset even having worked through each of the above steps, and that in these situations it is often better to walk away or to find another safe way to diffuse those feelings. As an adult, it is important to remember that this step is not about isolating the child but about giving them space if they want it, or going to them and supporting them through this final step if they need it.
The 5 Steps Printable Poster
As I mentioned above, it is often in the heat of the moment that these ideas go straight out of our mind and we find ourselves settling back into old habits of getting angry or acting impatiently with our child, rather than helping them work through a plan to calm down and be more in control. This is why I decided to make these five steps into a printable poster. Firstly, to act as a discussion guide as you work out your very own calm down plan, and secondly, as a visual prompt for when you or your child need that reminder and support. Print out a copy and hang it in their bedroom or playroom, or even your living area and refer to it regularly as you help your child learn to process these big emotions!
9 Calm Down Ideas for Kids
The 5 Steps to Managing Big Emotions Calm Down Plan is as a tool to help parents and children navigate those times when children are struggling to express their feelings in socially acceptable ways. The final step of the process shared was ‘Take time to calm down’ and I promised that this week I would share activity suggestions that are great for encouraging children to channel their big emotions into alternative pursuits that allow them to discharge their feelings safely. You’ll find more about those ideas below but before I go on to talk about them I wanted to address the question that some people had about why I listed this step last and not first. Here’s my thinking behind the order of the steps;
2. Take 3 deep breaths or count slowly to 10 – these are both very simple and immediate calm down techniques that children can use to give them a little time and space to try and negotiate a solution to the problem that is occurring.
3. Use my words to say how I feel and what I wish would happen – as I said last week, “Acknowledging the big feelings recognises that these feelings are legitimate and important, and saying what they wish would happen helps to open a problem solving conversation.”
4. Ask for help to solve the problem – children will not always be able to solve a problem by themselves and asking for help involves you as a support person in the problem solving process.
5. Take the time I need to calm down – a solution to please everyone won’t always be found, and in these instances if the big feelings continue to be an issue for your child a suggestion that they take some time to calm down can be helpful (some children will even say themselves, “I need some time alone!). That is where the following calm down ideas can help your child discharge these feelings safely.
9 Calm Down Ideas for Kids
1. Go outside and kick a ball or run around: the physical activity is a great outlet for overwhelming emotions and nature is a great healer.
2. Punch a pillow: a safe way to let off steam when managing angry or frustrated feelings.
3. Listen to music or sing a song: one for children who find music comforting.
4. Close your eyes and think of a calm place: a great relaxation tool for kids, this is one to practise with them at other times (before sleep is a great time) so that they can call on it when they are struggling with emotions.
5. Draw a picture: encourage your child to use their creativity to symbolically represent how they are feeling, “Do you want to draw me a picture of how you are feeling?”
6. Write a letter or a story: again, this technique provides your child with a creative outlet for their feelings – “Maybe you could write your brother a letter and tell him how you feel?” “Why don’t you write a story about what happened. You could even make up a new ending.”
7. Read a book: one for children who find reading provides a sense of relief from other pressures.
8. Talk to someone: I always call my husband or my mum when I am struggling with big emotions and your child might need that same exact support to process what they are feeling.
9. Ask for a hug: some children will find comfort in close physical contact when they are feeling overwhelmed.
One final point – these posters are as much, if not more, for the parent or significant adult helping the child manage these emotions, as they are for the child. They are a tool to open discussion with your child about having a calm down plan and they can act as a visual prompt to help you (the adult) as you guide your child in that moment when they are struggling to manage. You know your child best and so while this process will work well for some children, it may not work for others. In the same way, their effectiveness will depend on the age and development of your child. I share these as a tool that might just work in your parenting toolkit.