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How to help your child manage big emotions

One of the biggest challenges we face as parents is knowing how to respond when our children experience big emotions.  The way that we meet their emotions in the moment is important. It teaches them how respond to their own feelings, and influences what tools they will choose to emotionally regulate.


In this blog our Psychology Team will highlight ways of responding to emotions and behaviour that can soothe quickly and help your child build their coping skills.

The role of Physical Activity and Self-regulation

It makes sense that if our child (or us!) is feeling hungry or tired they can find it more difficult to deal with big emotions. You might see more meltdowns or tantrums, and they might refuse to follow routines that are usually not a problem. When this happens we can think about how to help their physical well-being. Here is a list of some ideas to support this:


– Regular snacks and meals can help regulate or keep our energy steady. If you have a child who is very fussy with their food, you may wonder about how you can bring some playfulness or fun to eating. This could involve playing a tasting game where you blindfold each other and try some foods – creating a list of likes, dislikes and ‘maybes’. When playing such a game we include foods that we know they like, some foods that we think they might like based on their diet (i.e. does it have a similar texture, smell, colour, taste to what they usually eat?), and one or two foods they dislike. The goal is to create some flexibility around thinking about different foods as mealtimes can often become a battlefield when your child is stressed.


– Taking a step back and leaving food out for your child to pick at can also help reduce mealtime arguments. Praising your child for trying something new can motivate them and reduces focus on what they are not eating.


– Sharing food preparation can help bring playfulness and a sense of control for your child. This might involve baking, mashing potato’s or carrots, cleaning vegetables. If you know that your child finds it tricky to complete these activities without mess or will do them incorrectly, let’s plan for that. Rather than focusing on getting it right, we may keep some dough or food aside that won’t be eaten, so that your child can still use this in their own way and feel the pride around helping us out.


-Physical well-being also involves regulating our energy level so that if we are feel too hyper or too tired, we have some activities that can help us get back to a ‘just right’ energy level.  You might find it helpful to look at some occupational therapy resources online if you are finding that your child is struggling to regulate (online search: ‘how is your engine running?).


It is very typical that younger children have high energy levels that they can struggle to regulate without the support of their parents. So having a range of activities or a ‘coping toolbox’ can be really helpful. Some ideas for what to put in this toolbox include:


Regulating ‘Too high’ energy:


Jumping on a trampoline and using chalk to draw hopscotch or a path they can hop on.

Running on the spot and jumping jacks to burn off energy, shouting ‘freeze’ and making this into a fun game.

Walking and moving around the room like a different animal (i.e. big slow stretchy walk for a cat).

Following a progressive muscle relaxation (see below).

Deep pressure body hugs, or being wrapped up cosy.

Deep breathing (see below).

Space to play in room and throw soft toys into a basket or push the wall like a superhero.

Building things and taking them apart.

Sensory play.

Nature walks – creating treasure maps for finding things on the walk (things we can touch, see, hear, smell) can give a sense of control and help you connect through playfulness.


Regulating ‘Too low’ energy:


Swaddling them in a warm blanket.

Lowering light in the room and taking a nap.

Giving an incentive to get them motivated to go for a walk or do some exercise.

Follow a yoga or stretching video.

Deep hugs. Giving them a massage.

Take a bath or foot bath in a basin.

Sensory play (see below).

Colouring and listening to some calming music.


Remember, different activities will work for different children. What might be soothing for one child can be stimulating and energise another.


The power of Deep Breathing

This is really helpful when we want to switch on our ‘soothe’ part of our nervous system. Even 2 minutes of belly breaths can help our brains and bodies settle. Children will often reject deep breathing when they are stressed or in meltdown. This is why it can be helpful to introduce practising deep breathing when they are calm and feel connected with you. Here is a video that outlines a simple breathing technique that can work for children of different ages:

Five finger breathing:


Using visuals is a powerful way to help your child practice belly breaths. You can find a range of guided breathing animations and tools on our InsightKids App, designed by our team of Psychologists.


Using Progessive Muscle Relaxation

This is a proven way to relax our different muscle groups and ground our energy/senses. Here are is a visual of a simple 5 senses grounding technique to get you started:



A guided Progressive Muscle Relaxation practice involves slowly tensing the muscles in our body and progressively relaxing them.  This creates body awareness, release muscle tension and creates a sense of calm in the body.

You can try a simple PMR practice on our InsightKids App, and we encourage you to practice this with your child when they try it for the first time.


How to become your child’s Emotion Coach

Big emotions and meltdowns are an inevitable part of life for children. We have included some ideas for what can be helpful when their emotions get too big for them.


Recommended Podcasts in the Managing Emotions Section on our Parent App include:


How to manage emotions in the moment & build resilience –
A 5 Stepped Approach (20 mins)

Responding to meltdowns – First Steps (4 mins)

When they use worrying statements – what to do & how to respond
(7 mins)

How to make up and reconnect with your child (4 mins)


Flipping the lid is a helpful analogy for understand how our child’s ‘upstairs brain’ is not yet fully developed, and why they need us to help them through tricky situations. Please see the following link for more information:

Pressing your Pause button and taking a breather as a parent is essential if you are feeling like your child is stuck in ‘meltdown mode’. This might mean taking a break, or telling your child that ‘I need to drink a glass of water and take some belly breaths first’ before stepping in to manage a fight or tantrum.


This process is always messy so be gentle with yourself.

Tag in support and remember that you are doing ‘what I can, with what I have, where I am’.


<Check out our Pressing your Pause Button Meditation in the Parent Stress Section on our Parent App>


Using visual schedules and checklists for routines can help your child feel in control as they tick off the list, and help them make predictions about what their day or week will look like.


Release and Restore through Playfulness

Creativity and free-play can also help our child regulate and feel in control of their environment. We can set time aside to join them in this play – which can help our child feel safe and connected with us.


If you have had a draining stressful day, see if you can make yourself a warm drink, throw some toys on the floor and follow the lead of your child. Simply observing and naming what you are seeing them do can feel reassuring for them.

‘You’re building a big big tower’, ‘oh you’re knocking the tower, that was a big crash’.


Praise what you are seeing – ‘lovely stacking’, ‘that’s really creative’. See if you can avoid asking any questions – instead just observe, name and praise – and follow their lead. You can join in the play by wondering with them ‘I wonder if that grey block could go in the rocket?’.


Again this allows our child to feel connected with us, feel in control and can actually reduce any battles or meltdowns we are having.


Sensory Play and Calming through the Senses

We can use household items like rice, aquafaba (whip up some chickpea juice from a can into foam and add some drops of a nice smelling oil/scent), and lentils for sensory play.  You can find a range of sensory soothing tools on our InsightKids App.


Remember, we can’t pour from a jug that is empty so it is a kindness to our children when we focus on our Self-care as parents. This looks like forgiving ourselves for when we feel we haven’t handled a situation how we would have liked to.  And letting go of each day as we step into a fresh one can help us sustain our own well-being through difficult periods.


In the SOS Toolkit on our Parent App you will find exercises designed to provide quick relief when you feel overwhelmed.

Here are some recommended SOS Tools for Parents:


Feel Calm (6 mins)

Take a breath (2 mins) 

For when you feel panicked (8 mins)


Pressing the Pause button (6 mins)

Stop the inner bully (7 mins)

Soothing Coping Cards (quotes & images to help you relax)


March Offer –

Click here to sign up for our 1 month free trial for a premium subscription to our family of 3 Apps 

Psychological Support for the whole family.


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