How to Deal With Your Child’s Big Feelings

It’s scary being a kid. Growing up in a world as warm and colorful as our own is exciting, but all that excitement can get overwhelming, especially when trying new things. And when kids get overwhelmed, they cry.

It’s natural for children to shed a few tears. In fact, I even encourage it! Crying is one of the most natural things we humans do, and actually has several proven health benefits. Some kids, however, are next level cryers. They have high expectations, and when those expectations aren’t met, they get overwhelmed. Small disappointments, like a broken crayon or overcast day, are all it takes to set them sobbing. Why is that?

When kids regularly feel big emotions, it may be because they haven’t yet learned how to regulate their feelings. Self-regulation is a skill that children learn with time, but some kiddos, like those diagnosed with autism or ADHD, have a harder time than others. According to the Child Mind Institute, “some kids are born having a harder time with self-regulation. Some don’t develop the skills if parents jump in right away to solve problems or help them calm down.” Other kids may have a hard time dealing with big emotions because they aren’t able to differentiate between big and small issues.

Whatever the reason, it can be difficult to know how to respond to a child that cries frequently. Should you help them find a solution or let them cry out their feelings?

Without further ado, here’s how to deal with a child that cries over everything.

Maintain Your Chill

Before we get into the dos, let’s talk about one thing you shouldn’t do: freak out.

When we see kids crying, our bodies instinctually undergo physiological responses ranging from an increased heart rate to small changes in blood pressure. These changes make it easy to feel overwhelmed ourselves, but freaking out when your child starts throwing a tantrum is the opposite of productive. 

Kids are naturally empathetic, meaning they feel and feed off the energy of those around them. If you start feeling visibly anxious or acting out of the ordinary when your child has a meltdown, they may feed off your newfound tension and act out even stronger. Instead, take a deep breath, put on your strong parenting hat, and steel yourself up to go help.

Validate Your Child’s Feelings

Once your kiddo has calmed down, ask them why they’re upset and show them you empathize with their feelings. You don’t always need to hunt for solutions—sometimes, validating your child’s disappointment is enough. Let them know that you understand why they’re upset, then give your child a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on. 

Sadness is one of the most natural human emotions, and it’s a feeling that everyone can empathize with. As you talk with your kiddo, say things like, “I understand that you’re upset because….” 

Often, younger kids are unable to put their emotions into words. When you do it for them, it helps them understand why they’re feeling what they’re feeling. Giving your child a chance to work through their feelings vocally teaches them how to express their emotions in a healthy, productive way.

Reinforce Your Boundaries

Let’s be honest: it’s hard watching kids cry. 

When the tears start falling, every parental instinct screams “go do something!” These instincts are hard to ignore, and may make us do anything to stop the crying—even if that means breaking your own boundaries and letting your child do something that normally wouldn’t be okay. However, as the Child Mind Institute reminds us, giving in to tantrums may actually get kids in the habit of using tears whenever they’re disappointed.

Instead, use tantrums as an opportunity to reinforce your parenting boundaries. Validate your kiddo’s feelings, then remind them about your rules. Remaining consistent in your parenting, even in the face of tears, gives your children important opportunities to learn how to healthily cope with disappointment. 

Not sure how to reinforce your boundaries? Here are some examples:

  • If your kiddo is upset that they have to go to bed, try saying, “I understand that you’re upset because you don’t want the night to end. It’s 9pm, which means it’s time to sleep.”
  • If they want to play with a friend on a school night, say, “I see why you’re sad. Playing with your friend would be so fun, but it’s a school night and we don’t have playdates on school nights.”
  • If they didn’t get the snack they wanted, say, “I get that you’re upset because you didn’t get the right snack. You already had one snack, and we are not getting another one right now.”

Help Your Child Brainstorm Solutions

Sometimes, a conversation isn’t enough to stop a child’s tears—they need a solution. Remember that you don’t always need to fix problems for them, though. In fact, fixing the problem every time your child cries may encourage them to resort to tears whenever something doesn’t work out.

Instead, help your child come up with their own solution to the problem. For example, if they’re upset because their favorite colored pencil broke, show them how they can use a similar colored crayon to complete their drawing. Then, give them some praise! Celebrating your child’s problem-solving teaches them that finding a solution to an issue is far healthier, and more productive, than an emotional outburst.

Teach Your Child About Mindfulness

Here’s a bit of wisdom from a yoga video I found the other day: when things aren’t going your way, touch your toes.

It sounds silly, but it totally works! Practicing mindfulness, whether it’s through yoga or meditation, helps people of all ages calm down and zen out. Whenever I’m overwhelmed or feeling strong emotions, I take a few minutes to stretch. It brings my heart rate down, pulls me into the present moment, and gives me something to think about other than whatever is overwhelming me. 

When your child starts feeling overwhelmed, encourage them to slow down and take a few minutes to breathe. If they’re lucky enough to have a Troomi phone, show them how to pull up a mindfulness KidSmartⓇ App like Headspace or Antistress. These awesome apps make mindfulness easily accessible for kids of all ages. 

Remember that Tears Happen

It’s unfortunate, but you’re not always going to be able to help your kid through their hard times. When all else fails and you’re left wondering how to deal with a child that cries over everything, take a deep breath and remember that these things happen. Continue providing your kiddo with a safe space to experience their emotions, and you’ll be alright. After all, they’re probably letting these big emotions out because you make them feel comfortable—and that’s worth a lot.