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Coping Skills for Managing Emotions

Coping Skills for Managing Emotions provides helpful cues and responses:

When care givers… This helps …
1. Observe

Don’t say anything. Watch first. Pay attention to the situation. What was the build up? (e.g., what happened before the child displayed their emotion?). Watch for facial expressions, tone of voice and posture, as well as listening to what the child is saying to get a complete picture.

Adults to have a better understanding of:

·      what the child may be experiencing and why

·      how the child expresses their emotions.

2. Notice all emotions

Both positive and less positive emotions.

·      Children to understand that all emotions, positive and less positive, are valid and worth expressing.
3. Assess

What do you think the child may be feeling? Try not to judge what you think the cause of their emotion may be (although you may have some thoughts about it).

·      Adults to think about what the child is experiencing and be open minded until you have more information.
4. Reflect the child’s emotions back to them

Make a brief statement to the child describing how they appear to you and the emotion you think you observed (e.g., “you look sad”; or “you seem excited”).

·      Children to feel acknowledged and understood.

·      Children to not feel overwhelmed by adults using too many words or complicated language or asking difficult questions such as “How are you feeling?”

5. Use a variety of feeling words

Over time children experience more differentiated emotions (e.g., excited, angry, frustrated, lonely) from the primary emotions (happy, mad, sad, afraid).

·      Children to build their dictionary of feeling words.

·      Children increase their capacity to distinguish between different emotions.

6. Acknowledge

Acknowledge children’s emotions even when you are not comfortable with them or think they are unreasonable.

·      Children feel understood and increases the likelihood they will share their feelings with others in the future so adults can help them develop constructive ways of dealing with their emotions.

·      Adults to recognize the child’s viewpoint which may be different from their own.

7. Revise

Revise inaccurate reflections

·      Adults become better at reflecting children’s emotions.

·      Children to practice using words to express their emotions.

·      Children feel understood and capable which is important for their developing sense of self.

Parents and carers can also use non-verbal communication to reflect children’s emotions. Non-verbal communication includes body positioning, hand and arm gestures, and body language. It is important for children’s emotional development that parents’ and carers’ use of words, visual and sound cues convey a single message. For example, talking in a calm voice with open body language (e.g., holding arms open) and a kind expression conveys gentleness, safety and trust. This helps ensure adults’ non-verbal messages reflect and are consistent with their verbal messages to children.

How you are is as important as what you say or do. Mixed messages can be confusing for children.

Here are some examples of emotional experiences children may have, how parents and carers might respond and what skills children can learn from these experiences.

When a child is upset
They might … A parent or carer might respond by … The child learns …
… sit on the floor not playing and frowning … bending down placing a gentle hand on the child’s shoulder and saying ‘I can see that you look upset. Do you want to tell me what happened? What can we do to help you feel better?’ using a kind and gentle voice. … that someone is interested and cares. It also provides the child with some choice, as well as hope and skills for managing negative experiences.
… shout at another child with whom
they are fighting over a toy
… helping the two children to calm down by using words to describe their feelings and working together to solve the problem (for example, “You seem to be upset. Why don’t we stop and have a big stretch and relax? Then maybe you can each say why you are upset and what ideas you have for solving the problem and feeling better.”). … to calm down and how to solve problems with others.
… cry … giving them a cuddle and be still with them until they have calmed down. … to experience and know what it is to be calm and trust that there is someone there for them.
… be quiet and not draw any attention to themselves … watching from a distance for a while and think about what the child may be experiencing. A parent or carer could slowly move closer to the child and provide some contact and comfort or reassurance, followed by engaging the child in an experience when they seemed ready to do so. … that they are important and their feelings are valued. They may also learn that they can feel better by sharing their feelings with others.

(Source: Kostelnik, M.J., Whiren, A.B., Soderman, A.K., & Gregory, K.(2006). Guiding children’s social development. Theory to practice (5th ed.). Thomson Delmar Learning: NY)