why is my child reacting like that? spotlight on tough emotions

Why is my child reacting like THAT? Spotlight on tough emotions

Helping your child to manage their emotions

From The Secure Child set of talks and materials


Have you ever found yourself asking “Why is my child reacting like that?” As we turn a spotlight on tough emotions, know that every child responds differently when confronted with an emotional situation.  And it all takes experience and guidance before your child can manage these emotions for themselves.

It may seem like feelings of hurt or anger arouse easily in your child. Their excitement or joy may become quickly over stimulated. Their reaction may be different to your friend’s child, their sibling or even the way they would have reacted yesterday.  But if we want our children to respond to their emotions effectively, they need to be able to recognise them. And this takes understanding and actively managing, even in the moments when it might be tempting to run and hide.

How can you help your child to take active control of their emotions?

Firstly, help your child to understand what is going on inside their own bodies as they learn to recognise their emotions. And learn how to take control of them.  They need permission and opportunity to feel, along with the support to name what they are feeling. And they need to experience the whole process without fear spiralling them into negative thinking-feeling cycles that will only escalate.

Your child needs to learn to recognise their emotions as they are feeling them. They then need to actively take control of these emotions. Working both consciously and unconsciously, to stop their strong emotions from controlling them. 

And if all this wasn’t enough, they then need to recognise the behaviours and actions of those around them. Reacting in positive ways when their friends emotions are likely to trigger upset and dramatic fallout. Quite the tall order!

Emotions depend on the way we are feeling in the moment. But they are being influenced by every experience that has gone before.

Your child’s emotions are dependent on their state of mind; how they are feeling in the moment, as well as the emotional dispositions that are being formed within them.  These pre-established influences on their emotional behaviours are partly a result of their genes. As well as all their previous experiences.

Managing difficult emotions is a stressful experience for everyone. Your child as much as for you. 

But as prevention is often the best management tool you have, be aware of your child’s triggers so that you do not end up ‘past the point of no return’ more than you must.  If this is occurring regularly, think about what you are expecting of them. And consider ways of easing a situation back from the brink.

Emotional meltdowns can often be the result of feeling overly hungry, tired, frustrated or simply poorly. Especially when their age and developmental stage means the demands and expectations that are being put on them are unrealistic. So if you are struggling with how your child is reacting, be mindful of these things.

So, remain calm and unemotional yourself, as difficult as that may be.

You cannot hope to manage your child’s heightened emotions if you yourself are beginning to feel overwhelmed, anxious or upset by the situation.

So, when you find yourself screaming inside, asking “Why is my child reacting like that?”, step away if you can. Allow your emotions to calm back down, maybe through self-talk or some deep breaths. You are then more able to respond in more measured tones when you attempt to help your child. Who, after all, is learning a great deal about how to deal with their feelings from the contagious emotional climate around them.

Studies show benefits well into their teens when children are raised in families where emotions are expressed in healthy ways. They are more likely to use healthy coping strategies when their emotions are triggered by those around them.  So, notice your child’s emotions.  Listen, and respond in caring and constructive ways. And help them practice self-recognition, empathy and active management. Knowing every time you do, you are avoiding them taking riskier ways of dealing with their emotions.


Dr Kathryn Peckham is an Early Childhood Consultant, author and researcher and the founder of Nurturing Childhoods.  Providing all the knowledge, understanding and support you need to nurture your growing child.   www.nurturingchildhoods.co.uk

DEVELOPING EVERY CHILD’S POTENTIAL

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Embracing all your child’s emotions – even more dramatic ones 

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