Emotions and Behaviour

Did you know that your child can experience the full range of emotions that you do? It can be confusing and overwhelming for a child, so they need your help to learn all about emotions and what they mean.

How can we support our child with this?

We need to acknowledge and validate children’s feelings in order to develop positive mental health and wellbeing, and this can start right from being a baby, as babies have feelings too!

You can help your child by labelling feelings they are displaying, both positive and negative feelings, such as “You look so happy playing with your friend”, “It sounds like you are feeling disappointed that you can’t see Grandma today”, “I can see how hard you are trying to stay calm and patient while waiting for me to finish…” By saying things like this to your child you are helping them to recognise the emotion and helping them to learn the words for it so that eventually they can express the feeling themselves.

Sometimes children can become overwhelmed by powerful negative emotions which tip over into difficult behaviours. Most times when you see a difficult emotion in your child, there is an unmet need underlying it, so trying to understand that emotion will give you a clue to the behaviour you may be seeing, and that leads to the opportunity to fulfil that need.

Think of it as an iceberg, what is really going on under the surface? We call this emotional dysregulation. One of the most difficult skills for a child to learn is self-regulation. Young children’s brains are still growing and developing, so the connections between the emotional part of the brain and the thinking part of the brain are not strong, but each time you help your child by labelling their emotions and help them to try to stay calm you will strengthen these connections. You can validate how your child is feeling and empathise with them, you can try to normalise their reaction by saying things like “I can understand why you might be feeling….” This is very helpful for a child as we all like to feel that what we are experiencing is normal. However normalising the feeling does not mean we are condoning unacceptable behaviour, but leaving a child to feel bad about an emotion is also not helpful. Alongside using this Emotion Coaching, bringing in age and developmentally appropriate boundaries will help to shape a child’s behaviour in a positive and nurturing way.

In order to help a dysregulated child to calm down, a parent needs to be able to remain calm themselves and to be emotionally connected to their child in order to sooth their emotional outburst. This is what we call co-regulation by a parent. If you can help your child to calm down then you will strengthen the pathways in their brain, so that eventually they will not react in such a big way and you can start to use some simple problem solving to address the trigger. Children need lots of repeated learning opportunities to learn this skill.

And don’t forget, if you can encourage your child to learn how to do some deep breathing this can help to prevent the situation deteriorating. Simply breathing in through the nose and a longer, slower breath out through the mouth is very effective. Just as in the pictures above it can help to describe the breathing as “Smelling the flower” and “blowing the pinwheel” to explain the in and out breaths

Parents can use the power of Attention for positive, pro social behaviours, and alongside using praise for that behaviour this is very motivating for a child. Think about how you use your attention. What behaviours do you give most of your attention to? Is it for negative behaviours? If so, try changing it all around and transfer it on to positive opposite behaviours e.g., rather than giving your attention to your child for shouting and asking them to stop, try praising them for speaking with a quiet voice. They will much prefer the positive attention!

This is how we can shape behaviour in a positive way and help children to learn about their emotions.

Putting into place some of these strategies takes lots of practice and can feel difficult at times, particularly if you yourself are struggling with your own emotions and mental health or you feel isolated and unsupported.It can be helpful to share how you are feeling with your health visitor, who will be able to support you by providing space to listen, suggesting further resources that may help you, or putting you in touch with services/people who can provide specialist help if you need it.If you go to the Empowering Parents and Empowering Communities (EPEC) and Parenting Team there are links to groups/resources available to support you with managing your child’s emotions and behaviour.

Emotions and Behaviour

Did you know that your child can experience the full range of emotions that you do? It can be confusing and overwhelming for a child, so they need your help to learn all about emotions and what they mean.

How can we support our child with this?

We need to acknowledge and validate children’s feelings in order to develop positive mental health and wellbeing, and this can start right from being a baby, as babies have feelings too!

You can help your child by labelling feelings they are displaying, both positive and negative feelings, such as “You look so happy playing with your friend”, “It sounds like you are feeling disappointed that you can’t see Grandma today”, “I can see how hard you are trying to stay calm and patient while waiting for me to finish…” By saying things like this to your child you are helping them to recognise the emotion and helping them to learn the words for it so that eventually they can express the feeling themselves.

Sometimes children can become overwhelmed by powerful negative emotions which tip over into difficult behaviours. Most times when you see a difficult emotion in your child, there is an unmet need underlying it, so trying to understand that emotion will give you a clue to the behaviour you may be seeing, and that leads to the opportunity to fulfil that need.

Think of it as an iceberg, what is really going on under the surface? We call this emotional dysregulation. One of the most difficult skills for a child to learn is self-regulation. Young children’s brains are still growing and developing, so the connections between the emotional part of the brain and the thinking part of the brain are not strong, but each time you help your child by labelling their emotions and help them to try to stay calm you will strengthen these connections. You can validate how your child is feeling and empathise with them, you can try to normalise their reaction by saying things like “I can understand why you might be feeling….” This is very helpful for a child as we all like to feel that what we are experiencing is normal. However normalising the feeling does not mean we are condoning unacceptable behaviour, but leaving a child to feel bad about an emotion is also not helpful. Alongside using this Emotion Coaching, bringing in age and developmentally appropriate boundaries will help to shape a child’s behaviour in a positive and nurturing way.

In order to help a dysregulated child to calm down, a parent needs to be able to remain calm themselves and to be emotionally connected to their child in order to sooth their emotional outburst. This is what we call co-regulation by a parent. If you can help your child to calm down then you will strengthen the pathways in their brain, so that eventually they will not react in such a big way and you can start to use some simple problem solving to address the trigger. Children need lots of repeated learning opportunities to learn this skill.

And don’t forget, if you can encourage your child to learn how to do some deep breathing this can help to prevent the situation deteriorating. Simply breathing in through the nose and a longer, slower breath out through the mouth is very effective. Just as in the pictures above it can help to describe the breathing as “Smelling the flower” and “blowing the pinwheel” to explain the in and out breaths

Parents can use the power of Attention for positive, pro social behaviours, and alongside using praise for that behaviour this is very motivating for a child. Think about how you use your attention. What behaviours do you give most of your attention to? Is it for negative behaviours? If so, try changing it all around and transfer it on to positive opposite behaviours e.g., rather than giving your attention to your child for shouting and asking them to stop, try praising them for speaking with a quiet voice. They will much prefer the positive attention!

This is how we can shape behaviour in a positive way and help children to learn about their emotions.

Putting into place some of these strategies takes lots of practice and can feel difficult at times, particularly if you yourself are struggling with your own emotions and mental health or you feel isolated and unsupported.It can be helpful to share how you are feeling with your health visitor, who will be able to support you by providing space to listen, suggesting further resources that may help you, or putting you in touch with services/people who can provide specialist help if you need it.If you go to the Empowering Parents and Empowering Communities (EPEC) and Parenting Team there are links to groups/resources available to support you with managing your child’s emotions and behaviour.

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Visit our online childcare directory

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Visit our online childcare directory