Helping Children Manage Big Feelings

Natural Consequences – Part 3


When we see our little one inflict harm on someone else or create a mess of epic proportions, it can be infuriating. I find it similar to road rage — when I am in the moment, it’s powerful, overwhelming, and can totally impair my thinking. However, meeting their extreme behavior with an extreme reaction doesn’t make me feel good either. It is also critical to remember that you are actively modeling ‘what to do when you are upset’ in this moment for your child. You need to lead by example.So, when you watch your son hit your daughter, throw something with the intention of hitting someone, or see your child empty dirt from an indoor plant onto the floor, what should you do?

  1. First and foremost, make sure that behavior stops immediately. Verbally, be clear and direct — stop hitting your sister — with urgency in your voice. If your child is hitting, kicking, or biting another person, do whatever it takes to ensure that everyone is safe. Physically stop your child if verbally telling them is not enough.
  2. Stay as calm as possible and let them know you are not pleased with their behavior. Say, What you just did was hurtful and makes me very angry/frustrated/sad. Then take a deep breath yourself. You will not do your best thinking in a frenzied state. This is where we run the highest risk of saying things that are not only unhelpful, but potentially harmful. One phrase I frequently resort to is, Mommy is really upset right now but instead of using my hands, I’m using my words and taking a deep breath first.
  3. Consider the frequency. Does he hit his brother often? Is this the first time? Have daycare/babysitter/teachers been telling me this is an ongoing problem? If it doesn’t happen frequently, we have to remember our children are small and learning. We won’t “allow” the behavior, but we also don’t need to act as if they just stabbed someone. **If this is pattern behavior, I would take a different approach. If a child is resorting to being physical with others often, s/he needs to be explicitly taught coping skills at a time when s/he is calm (please let me know if you would like more information on this – happy to dive deeper!)
  4. In order to keep everyone safe, consider removing your child from the environment. In this type of situation, this would be the natural consequence just as cleaning up a mess would be (see picture above!). Let’s go over here and make sure your body is safe enough to be around your friends. I don’t use the words “time out.” I would rather teach Keener that in order for him to be around his friends, his body needs to be safe. If he can’t be safe, he can’t be around this friends.
  5. Explain to your child why what they did was not safe and the impact of their behavior: Hitting your sister is not safe. It hurts her and makes her cry. She will not want to play with you if you use unsafe hands with her.
  6. Appeal to their empathy: Do you like when your friends hit you?
  7. Give them options for what they can do with the offending body part. Hands are for hugging, high 5s, building, and coloring. There are lots of things we can do with our hands.
  8. Have them make sure the child they hurt is ok. Have them ask, Are you ok? and apologize for hurting them, I’m sorry I hurt you.
  9. Give them options for how they could try handling the situation in an appropriate way: When you were angry at Sam, you could have said, ‘Can I please have a turn with the train?’ or you could say, ‘I’m feeling angry, I need some space,’ and walk away to find another toy. Which of those are you going to try right now?
  10. *If the child is calm and capable of hearing you, say, Any time you are feeling angry, you can use your words and ask for a turn, walk away and get some space, or ask mama for help solving a problem. If your child is not in a clear headspace, wait to have this conversation until later and some time has passed.

I would encourage you to think about what language might work for you before you are faced with your child throwing a toy so that you can set yourself up to succeed the next moment you are tested. And remember — we want to teach our children transferable skills. By identifying how your child felt leading up to the incident, you can teach your child strategies to deal with many different situations that might elicit those same feelings in the future. We can’t shield our children from feeling angry, sad, or frustrated, but we can teach them how to manage those big emotions in an appropriate way.

Shop Janie and Jack

Last Minute Valentine’s Day Gift Ideas!

For the emerging verbal skills/limited attention span 1 year old

Grace loves everything about this book. At 15 months, she is just starting to show an interest in books beyond eating them or just flipping the pages. This book only has 2-5 words per page which is perfect for her developing, yet limited, attention span. Inside the front and back covers are many hearts and the caterpillar is ‘hiding’ among them – it thrills her to find the caterpillar! The book is on the smaller side which makes it easy to bring along in the car and enjoy during outings.

Read More

Natural Consequences – Part 1

IMG_2834.jpgAs parents, when our children aren’t doing what we want them to, a common tactic is to take something away that is in our control — an ipad, a favorite tv show, or dessert. We are also quick to provide incentives to make our kids listen – If you get off the slide right now and get in the car, we will have a special snack. Why do we do it? We want our kids to listen to us. We are reaching for anything we can to bribe, encourage, or convince our kids to do what we want them to do.

Read More

How to Stop Saying “No”

IMG_2353KEENER! Don’t jump on the couch. KEENER! No more playing with your food. KEENER! Stop making that loud screeching noise. How much time do you feel like you spend telling your children what they can’t do — and feeling frustrated yourself while doing so? For most of us, our natural reaction is to watch them, notice what they are doing, and then tell them they can’t do that. The undesired behavior stands out and we immediately tell them no, don’t, or stop. The first time we might be calm, but the more times we say “don’t,” the more annoyed we feel. But there is good news — I’ve found that by retraining myself, I can calmly present my kids with options for what they can do, which greatly reduces the undesired behavior.

Read More

Stopping undesired behavior in its tracks

There’s a Time and a Place for Everything

I taught in NYC for four years, teaching 5th grade special and general education students.  My school was in Midtown East and I had an incredibly diverse group of kids — some 5th graders were still sucking their thumbs while others were ready to date. My hat goes off to middle school teachers.

I worked with incredible colleagues who helped me build my teaching foundation and became lifelong friends.  One of our guidance counselors, Trisha, is a true blessing to the children she works with. I remember collaborating with her about a particularly challenging student who had a difficult home life and had much more “life experience” than any 10 year old should have.  He had gotten in trouble for using inappropriate language at school and Trisha told him, “There is a time and place for everything.” Those words have stayed with me.

Read More

Establishing Expectations

*For a pre-verbal or newly verbal child, please see this post about expectations.

Expectation – a strong belief that something will happen or become the norm in the future.

Identify your expectations, model them, and step in when your kids need help meeting them. Set high expectations and watch your kids not just meet but exceed them independently.



Read More

Expectations: Emerging Language

While we should have higher expectations for a verbal child than for a child who is just learning to talk, we still should have reasonable expectations regarding a pre- or newly verbal child’s language and behavior.  This is the time to build a strong behavioral foundation. As both a mom and a teacher, I have always found it easier to train from the beginning, even with the additional support required early on, than it is to retrain an older child down the road.

Read More