Healthy Outlets for Big Feelings

Last year, one of the most popular and most responded-to articles at Simple Kids was the one on 6 Peaceful Solutions for Hitting and Anger.  I think all parents and care givers realize that one of the biggest responsibilities we have as parents is teaching our children how to respond to their feelings in a healthy way.

A few weeks ago, my friend Nora, whose daughter is the same age as my oldest, posted this picture on Facebook:

Nora shared that Ainsley was not happy about an answer Nora had given her, and she retreated to her room for a while and came out with this drawing.  Isn’t this an incredible response for a newly five year old to be able to have when feeling very, very angry with her mother?

(Nora told me that Ainsley had learned a lot about emotions and all sorts of character development through the Al’s Pals program at her school.)

I’ve shared before that I think journaling is an excellent way to help children learn to express their big feelings.

Journaling works quite well with older children and for children who are comfortable with written expression.  But what about little ones?  What about children who don’t feel comfortable with writing or drawing their feelings?

Today, I would love to hear from the Simple Kids community.  You all have shown yourselves time and again to be a wealth of wisdom and guidance.  I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

What have you found to be helpful, healthy outlets for the big feelings your children experience?

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  1. My 3yo son did something very similar one Sunday morning when I got way-out-of-proportion upset at him for not putting on his socks. He went into his room and wrote me a “message” about how he didn’t want to put on his socks. I felt both like an awful mother for my over-reaction (I apologized) and in awe of my son that he could come up with something like that.
    .-= nopinkhere´s last blog ..In Praise of Rubber Gloves =-.

  2. My daughter sometimes acts out her situation with her dolls. She has told me that she first acted out what happened (which resulted in her needing a time out), and then she acted out what better choices the dolls could have made.

  3. I have a nearly 3 and a nearly 2 year old, so I am at the discovery stage for this one as well. For me, with my nearly 3 year old daughter, I try to talk with her and ask her what made her angry, what she’s feeling, etc. For my nearly 2 year old, he is not talking a great deal, so the main thing we try to do is help him teach him what NOT to do (i.e. throwing things, hitting, etc.)

    This is definitely a challenge, but I find that both of these youngsters respond to my asking them what’s wrong, asking them if they’re angry, and then trying to do my part to make things right.

  4. I love this. With very small children, I try to model their feelings back to them, to show that I understand. I’ll get down on the floor with my tantrumming toddler and say, “Oh my goodness! You are so angry! Yes! So, so angry!” By empathizing with his feelings, I step out of the role of adversary and into the role of ally. I’m still not going to let him have that before-dinner cookie, but that doesn’t mean I don’t understand his frustration and feelings of helplessness.

    Our favorite cure for out-of-control feelings in this house is to sing “the cry song.” It’s the song “It’s Alright to Cry” from Free to Be You and Me. “It’s alright to cry / Crying gets the sad out of you / It’s alright to cry / It might make you feel better…” Somehow by recognizing and going along with the strength of their feelings, we’re able to calm the storm together.
    .-= Laura´s last blog ..What I Like About You: Valentines With Heart =-.

  5. I’m a huge advocate of helping my son to deal with strong feelings. He’s 2 years old and has always been very intense (some might say “high needs”). I think that it’s important sometimes to allow him to cry without placating him, I’m not sure that children can learn a whole lot if they’re not allowed to just cry sometimes. Like Laura, although I don’t let him have what he wants I do try my best to empathize and show him that I understand.
    .-= Satakieli´s last blog ..2 February RTT =-.

  6. brandy newman says:

    I consider myself very lucky that my three-year-old son expresses his feelings with words. Instead of hitting, he will often say “I’m frustrated” or “I’m mad at you” or “I’m sad” or “I really miss my friends.” I guess we always encouraged him to express himself through words and we were very lucky that he does. Sometimes when he’s expressing himself I have remind myself not to get mad or upset when he’s angry but to talk to him about it and ask him why.

  7. Another vote for great timing on this! I have a 2.5 year old and we’re right in the midst of dealing with these BIG emotions. I’m really looking forward to reading the other comments to see what works in different families.

    For now, allowing her to feel the emotions is a big part of it. Allowing her to feel that surge of emotions and knowing that we respect it – whether anger, being upset, sadness, frustration… As she calms down, we talk and we try to help her to put words to what she was feeling and she’s been able to use them to express it so much more lately. I try really hard not to force her to calm down while she’s very upset and I try really hard not to try to reason or talk with her until after she calms down. I think for the little ones, it’s even more magnified because they not only aren’t sure what to do with what they feel(who of us adults hasn’t been there??), but they also have a hard time identifying and expressing it. Letting her get out what she needs to in a safe place and way helps her calm down, then it opens the door to her relaxing a bit more to talk about how she was feeling.

    I really love the idea of art and journaling to help with expression. We haven’t tried that yet and I can see her really using that to draw or paint and just get it out as she grows!
    .-= Lillian @ Domestic Simplicity´s last blog ..Dyeing Playsilks with Kool-Aid =-.

  8. my nearly-3-year-old has started saying things like, “i’m angry, mommy. i am really angry.” it caught me off guard at first, but after i thought about it, i’ve determined that she’s started a very healthy habit of dealing with her emotions. almost automatically i started saying, “you are? how come?” rarely can she truly articulate why it is she is “angry,” but i think that honoring the feeling itself by why of asking for more details will teach her that her feelings are valid, whatever they are. feelings are never wrong. it’s the things we do because of how we feel that is wrong. i would choose to have her say she is angry and talk about it than hit or even throw a tantrum out of anger. i will definitely add the ideas of journaling and art to our repertoire of dealing with “big” feelings. great and, obviously, timely post!

  9. I think journaling/drawing is a good outlet for all kinds of big feelings – anger, sadness, and also uncertainty about changes. Before Max was born, my oldest was really upset about the prospect of a) a new baby and b) that baby being a BOY. The day we brought him home, however, she drew a picture of both of them holding hands. Okay, so she drew it on the wall in sharpie marker … but, it was so touching and such a milestone for her to get out those feelings about her new brother. Even when we painted that wall later on, I wouldn’t let my husband cover it that little drawing. Makes me smile every time I see it and reminds me that children’s feelings deserve respect, too.

  10. What seems to work best for my 3 and a half and 5 and a half year olds is helping them find their sadness / tears. Not the angry kind but the grieving kind. Like over little things that I’ve said no to. They grieve within loving arms and move on. Their brain adapts. So I am reminded of this on meltdown days… those days that we didn’t manage to grieve the little things along the way… emotions build up and explode. I am reminded to get down on the floor with them more and check in with them more… even if it’s just a quick back rub and a whispered ‘i love you’ while they are in the middle of their play. Checking in like that helps bridge the gap between seperate-time (ie. Mommy makes dinner).

    Thanks for this reminder:)

  11. I have been journaling with my twin boys since they were toddlers. At the end of the day I offered them paper and crayons and asked, “What color do you feel like today?” Occasionally they asked me to write words on their page. Now the twins are 6 and have a 2 year old sister. We have journaling time every night while I’m making dinner. It’s an invaluable time for me to check in with their emotions.