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How to Help Little Kids With Big Emotions

family time Jan 25, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on everyone, but it’s been especially difficult for our kids. The academic, social, and emotional upheaval of the last year has affected our children in ways we may not fully understand for years to come. According to a recent NBC News article, mental health-related ER visits from children ages 5 to 11 have increased by 24 percent in 2020. 

That’s why I’ve sat down with Dr. Aly Wood, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and the creator of the Straight Talk Toddlers2Teens Instagram account. We talked about how parents can help their little kids handle big emotions. You can listen to the podcast here, or keep reading for Dr. Wood’s tips below. 

“With big emotions come big behaviors,” says Dr. Wood. “What you want to do is replace those problem behaviors with skillful behaviors.” 

When your child starts to go into a meltdown or “hulk mode,” Dr. Wood recommends using crisis survival skills also known as TIPP skills. Here’s what that means: 

Temperature: According to Dr. Wood, you can use this exercise by finding a bowl and filling it with ice water. Then, you have your child hold their breath, put their face in the bowl, and hold it there for roughly 10 to 30 seconds. You can repeat this exercise once or twice. 

“Ice water is known for being able to rapidly decrease your heart rate,” says Dr. Wood. “It activates that dive reflex, and it basically causes the heart to slow down below the resting heart rate.” 

However, she recognizes that this tactic depends on the situation you and your child are in. After all, you’re probably not going to want to use this one in the Target toy aisle. So, if a bowl of ice water isn’t readily available, Dr. Wood recommends a cold compress or freezer pack to the back of the neck.

Intense Exercise: If the temperature tactic doesn’t sound appealing to you or your child, you can have your kid do any form of intense exercise for 10 to 20 minutes. 

“The goal is to just get rid of those negative emotions and rapidly increase those positive emotions,” says Dr. Wood. “That intense exercise can take whatever form, whether it's running, jumping rope, or dancing.”

Paced Breathing: The next skill in this list is known as paced breathing. 

“The beautiful thing about this skill is that it can be done anywhere,” says Dr. Wood. “We always have our breath with us.” Again, the goal here, according to Dr. Wood, is to slow your child’s breathing down. 

“What I typically tell parents to do is to tell their child to breathe in for four seconds and then breathe out for six.” 

Progressive Muscle Relaxation: Any parent of a toddler knows that telling their kid to “relax” during a temper tantrum doesn’t help. That’s because they might not understand what you mean. So, Dr. Wood suggests showing your child how to relax by telling them to hold certain muscles for 10 seconds and then release them for 10 seconds. 

“So typically I kind of instruct children to go from head to toe,” says Dr. Wood. “And the first place I start is the eyes and forehead. So shutting the eyes, really tight screws, and squeezing the brows together.”

Bonus tip: Dr. Wood also suggests practicing these skills with your child when they are in a normal state, so they can do it during a highly emotional time. 

As parents, we know our little ones are bound to have big emotions. However, with the right coping skills you can weather the storm and come out on the other side with better behaviors. 

Have you tried any of these TIPP skills with your children before? How did it go? Let us know what other tactics you have used to soothe your toddler during a temper tantrum.

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