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Helping Kids Handle Their Feelings

That Tuesday morning was chaotic.

We recently set our clocks back an hour, and though we were only a few days in, my patience was wearing thin.

Somehow, shifting this one simple hour in our day tricked my family into thinking we had more time.

More time for snoozing,

for teeth brushing,

and sock finding.

For waffle eating,

and backpack checking…

…..Instagram scrolling…..

We rushed to school like army troops; me barking orders like a drill sergeant: “Move, move, move!” I know in a week or two we will adjust to the time shift.

Honestly, the time change was not the only reason I was on edge.

A combination of worry over some medical test results, secondary grief after a funeral, and a mile-long to-do list created the perfect storm of emotions.

The night before, I found myself in full-blown tears on the couch.

It had been ages since I’d had a good cry and, while it felt cathartic to release those feelings, it took a while to get them out.

I got to bed later than normal.

Needless to say, that morning when the twins decided to dip their stocking feet in the dog water and traipse around the house while my oldest and I searched for his jacket, I was seething.

Gritting my teeth, I tore off paper towel squares for the twins and unenthusiastically sang, “Clean up, clean up, everybody, everywhere!”

Then I heard my six-year-old softly say,

“Mom? I think I heard you crying last night.”

I froze like Anna.

I stood like a statue, mouth agape, as my innocent child stared at me.

I often believe my children are oblivious; I think they don’t notice when I am stressed or upset or overwhelmed.

Maybe it’s because no one moves when I ask them to get ready for bed or to brush their teeth for the 10,000th time. Or because I practically have to stand on a pedestal with a bullhorn to get them out the door in the morning.

Yet the same child who wouldn’t hear an earthquake during a YouTube video somehow heard my sobs from the couch two stories below.

“It’s okay, Mom,” he said, “everybody feels sad sometimes.”

Then he gave me a quick hug and walked out of the room.

Schooled. By a six-year-old.

I work hard to intentionally teach my kids how to handle their feelings. My process has three parts:

  1. Name the feeling. Call it out. I can do this at the moment. I offer a calm word, “I see you’re really sad right now. It’s OK to feel sad sometimes.”
  2. Help tame the feeling. Once my child is calm, I teach them tools to cope with their feelings, so they aren’t so overwhelmed. I offer coping skills, “Would you like a hug or a drink of water? I’m here to help you.”
  3. Model the process. My kids need to see me name and tame my own feelings, so they learn by example. By doing so, I show them feelings are a normal and an expected part of everyday life.

In his own way, my son was doing what I had done for him hundreds of times: he named my feeling.

As a mom, I want to appear strong and capable in front of my children. I would never expect my son to feel responsible for taming my emotions the way I help him to tame his.

I think this is why I froze.

Yet one of the most courageous things I can do is allow my children to see me manage my own feelings and not hide them in their presence.

This looks like saying, “I am angry” and walking away before I yell hurtful things. Noticing, “I’m hungry,” and stopping for a quick snack before getting cranky. Vulnerably admitting to my child, “Yes, I was crying last night. I felt sad. I needed a hug from your dad, and then I felt better.”

That night, as I put my sweet boy to bed, I asked him about how my tears made him feel.

“I just…I have never seen you cry before,” he said searching my eyes.

“You were worried?” I asked.

I started to feel guilty.

I let my emotions get the best of me, and it impacted my kid.

“No,” he replied after thinking for a while, “I guess grown-ups have big feelings, too.”

Yes, buddy, they certainly do.

Featured image courtesy of Lindsey Cornett


Heather Kaloupek is married to a funny blue devil, mom to three lively boys, and singer both on stage and in her child’s ear. She is the owner of Kaloupek Counseling, LLC a private practice offering mental health services to children, teens, and adults in Decatur, IL. You can read more about her on her blog, and counseling practice here. You can also connect with Heather on Facebook and Instagram.


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2 COMMENTS
  • Jill Hoven
    3 months ago

    Such a great post and practical tools for all of us to teach our kids about emotions and feelings. Happy to share!

  • Laura
    2 months ago

    I love this so much! Recently my daughter encouraged me to “forgive myself” after I had grumped myself through our journey to the science museum. I thought, how did she get so wise? Later, I realized she got that from me! I beat myself up a lot for failing to tame my emotions in front of my kids, but I guess the more important piece is receiving the grace that awaits us when we mishandle our emotions and circumstances. If nothing else, we will know how to repair in our family 🙂

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