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How to manage Big Feelings in Little People

Natalie Costa, leading Education Expert on the Zoono Family Panel, an initiative that supports the wellbeing of families, offers her advice to parents on how to dissolve ‘big feelings’ and stop them taking over, as well as how to talk to toddlers about their emotions.  

While the world has been in somewhat of a tailspin over the last few weeks, with huge changes in the daily lives and routines for children, it’s no surprise that many will have been struggling with a surge of ‘big feelings’ in reaction to everything going on around them.

These powerful emotions can have a huge impact on little people and so it’s important that we help them learn how to identify and manage them, so they feel calmer and more in control. By talking to children about their feelings when they’re toddlers, we can help them develop their emotional vocabulary so that they can are happier, more confident, and grounded individuals as they grow up.

Three Top Tips to Manage Big Feelings

1. Give Emotions Their Own Characters

Despite manifesting themselves in various ways on the body, such as crying or smiling, emotions themselves can’t be seen, which makes them hard to identify for very young children. Often toddlers will have a limited understanding of why they feel a certain way and so by turning emotions into characters, we can help them learn.

Host an arts and crafts session where you create characters for a whole range of emotions. This will help children understand that they are not defined by their feelings, but that emotions are either welcome or unwelcome visitors who pop in and out throughout the day.

2. Don’t Forget to Breath

When big feelings take over it can be hard to get very young children to calm down, especially if they are angry or frustrated. Power breathing or deep belly breaths is a great place to start as it sends a message to the brain that they’re calm and in control – even if the opposite is true!

Ask your toddler to blow bubbles or get them to lie down and place a small toy on their tummy and tell them to try and lift the toy with every intake of breath. This will encourage them to breath from their diaphragm, rather than their chest.

3. Expand Their Emotional Vocabulary

Most toddlers understand basic emotions, such as happiness, anger or excitement, but more complicated feelings, like ‘disappointment’ or ‘fear’ are often confusing. Work on extending their emotional vocabulary so they can better express how they’re actually feeling.

Even better, draw a body map and get them to point to where they feel each emotion. This will help them be aware of the signals and know when the big feelings are developing.

Finally, understand that it’s OK for your toddler to be feeling more big emotions than usual. As everyone works through what has been a challenging time for us all, there’s no better time to be using the present situation as an opportunity to teach your child about their emotions.


About Natalie Costa

With a background in psychology, Natalie has also spent 12 years within the educational sector and is an accredited performance coach.  Natalie offers coaching to both children and parents to help give children the ‘power’ over their own thoughts and the tools to help cope and thrive in the modern world. She is thrilled to now share these strategies with you and your child as a part of the Zoono Family Panel.