Emotions can be messy: Coach your Child

One of the many things young children need to master in early childhood is how to handle their emotions or what we call, self-regulate. Emotions are a psychological state that is often accompanied by physical sensations or reactions that allow us to express ourselves. These emotions can be beautiful and messy, big and strong, sometimes appropriate and sometimes not so appropriate, but they are a part of us. It is part of how we feel and relate to the world and to others.

This developmental task of emotional self-regulation is largely undeveloped in the toddler years because of limited expressive vocabulary and uneven overall development, which is why toddlers are said to be in “the terrible twos.” Tantrums are not uncommon and even expected as children try to navigate their world and the make sense of the physical experiences around them.

Emotions emojis

Yes, sometimes the seams in socks just don’t feel right. Sometimes someone else having the toy you want is upsetting. Sometimes, you want some thing but you still don’t know the word for it. Other times you are tired, hungry, bored or scared but you don’t know how to tell your parent HOW you feel.

Instead, you SHOW them.

You cry, you stomp, you flail your arms and legs, you grab toys, you push others, you might even bite because you are just feeling emotions but not sure how to channel them yet.

Parents play a HUGE part in helping decode the mystery behind emotions. HOW?

First, label them.

I tell parents all the time to just label the emotion. Positive or negative. Don’t just focus on the big bad ones. Or the awesome good ones.

Second, make sure to pay attention to it as it is happening with a calm voice.

Doing this will help your child learn the word in relation to the feeling and body sensation they are experiencing.

Remember, doing this will help them know you SEE and UNDERSTAND THEM.

Part of why emotions are confusing to children is that they may not know why or how to share this feeling with others. By being their “emotion coach” in the moment you show your child that you understand and are there to help.


That is why I LOVE the book, “The Way I Feel” by Janan Cain who is both the author and illustrator. The book is a hardcover board book, has 18 pages with beautiful and whimsical illustrations. As parents read this book with their child, they can point out the emotions of SILLY, SCARED, HAPPY, SAD, ANGRY, EXCITED and PROUD.

Front Cover.

“Feelings come and feelings go. I never know what they’ll be. Silly or angry, happy or sad-they’re all a part of me.”

What a beautiful message this book has. Because YES, we all experience emotions–the good, the bad and the ugly. It adds to the human experience. So we shouldn’t make children feel bad for these emotions but we can help them understand what they are and how to handle them.

Sample page spread: SAD.
Sample page EXCITED.

In the back, the author provides some ideas for how to talk with your child after reading the book.

The book is published by Parenting Press…you can get your copy by clicking on the link below.

RELATED: http://Anxiety & Kids: How Parents Can Become Their Child’s Emotion Coach!

For daily tips on how to talk to your children about their emotions and general parenting and wellness pearls, follow me on Facebook and Instagram at LetsTalkKidsHealth.

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Written by

Nerissa Bauer

I am a behavioral pediatrician, consultant, child advocate and blogger. I am a wife, mommy to 2 amazing children and 2 golden retrievers. Love cooking, travel, reading, tap and creating.