Short Phrases Parents Can Use
To Help Children Cope with Emotions
The transition to preschool (new classroom, teachers, children, separating from mom & dad) can trigger big feelings. Initially when your child gets upset, sad or anxious, your first gut reaction may be to say something like, “There’s no reason to get upset.” Or “You’re okay” or “You’ll be okay” as a way to minimize your child’s emotional responses to situations.
The downside of this approach is that it sends a message that feelings are something to be ignored or bottled up. Later that day or week, your child may act out or meltdown without a clear or obvious source. This often leaves us feeling confused as parents, but here’s what’s happening: Your child is looking for a way to release emotion because they aren’t yet equipped with coping skills to process emotion.
What to do say instead:
“You seem to be (insert feeling: angry, worried, sad, etc) about (insert cause).”
Describe to your child exactly what you see in the moment. For example: “You seem to be upset about leaving the park.” “You seem to be disappointed that you can’t have ice cream right now.” Acknowledging your childs feeling (instead of minimizing them) is a way to show that you understand their point of view. Acknowledgement unlocks what is going on below the surface and helps a child connect how they are feeling with how they are acting. It doesn’t magically “fix” the emotion but it is the first step in teaching your child how to work through difficult feelings.
“I am here to help you.”
No matter what emotion your child is struggling with, it is always comforting to know that mom or dad is there to provide a safe place. This phrase encourages children to know they can share their emotions and feelings with you - no matter how illogical and emotionally drive they are - without judgement, shame, or punishment. Feelings are just feelings. Children don’t choose them.
“My child is not giving me a hard time, my child is having a hard time.” Author Unknown
“Let’s take a deep breath.”
Like acknowledgement, breathing is magic sauce for helping a child (and adult!) get to calm. Help your child learn how to make his belly move up and down by taking big breaths. Do it together, holding your hand over your bellies. Modeling the behavior helps get your child started.
“At the same time.”
Instead of using the word “but” (which can undo everything you said before it) choose the phrase, “at the same time.” It conveys the message that your child has been heard. “I see that you are sad at the same time, we are leaving the park.” “I see that you are upset that he is playing with the truck, at the same time I won’t let you hit.”
Here’s a great blog post to unpack this phrase even more: