Little Children and Big Feelings

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This is always one of my favorite times of year at NNM. I love getting to know the new children and families, as well as seeing the returning children and how excited they are to be one year older in their classrooms! For some new families, I know it may feel like it’s taking “forever” for your child to get comfortable and adjusted to her new classroom, but with patience and time, she will get there.


Your child is adjusting to new adults, new children, new routines, new materials, new expectations, new procedures.  It’s often common that your child might be “melting down” more easily at home, and that usually is because he is doing his best to try to hold it together while here at school.  Home is the safest space for children to release their emotions, and you may sometimes see an unexpected reaction, outburst, or meltdown from a minor setback at home.  If you think about it, even now as an adult, if you’ve ever had to acclimate to a new job, or a new situation—it takes some time to get orientated to a new space, new culture, new people. It can often feel overwhelming, so that by the time you get home, you feel drained. As adults, we have the capacity to respond to our feelings and emotions in appropropriate ways (through talking about them, or exercising to burn off steam, or taking some quiet downtime).  Young children are usually unable to express these big feelings in the same way and will often need some guidance on how to manage their emotions more productively.  


It’s often best to try and see their perspective, responding to their big feelings (even if it might seem like a “little problem”) with compassion and genuine empathy.  Depending on the situation, it’s helpful to try to reflect back with your child by labeling and naming the feelings for them, “It looks like this is really making you frustrated right now. Do you want to take a little break and come back to it when you’re feeling a bit more calm?”  Or “It seems like you are starting to get upset. Would you like my help with something?”  Or sometimes it’s as simple as, “I can see you’re feeling a lot of big feelings right now, would you like some extra hugs?”  


Also, it’s not always in your child’s best interest to “solve” or figure out the root of the problem in the moment, especially if their emotions are still high. Wait until your child is calm or at a later, neutral time try to talk through the difficult situation.  For example, if your child was upset separating from you at the classroom door, then later that evening at bath or bedtime, you can say something such as, “I saw how sad you were feeling when we had to say good-bye this morning…I know you’re still getting used to your new class and our new good-bye routine.  The more you practice going to school, the more you will learn about the works, the other children, and about the teachers. It will get easier the more you go and practice, it just takes time. Would you like to practice our good-bye routine now!”  Then you can role-play putting on “house-shoes,” counting out hugs and kisses your child would like to receive before parting, and then say “goodbye” to each other in a simple and pleasant manner.  You can reflect on these steps and role play them as often as your child would like to.  After some time, you can say something such as, “You’ve been doing such a nice job practicing peaceful good-byes with me at home; I’m sure you’ll soon be ready to have a peaceful good-bye at your classroom door.”


Also, when helping young children learn how to best express their feelings, it’s often fun for them to learn through real stories. Young children love to hear stories about you (especially stories of when you were little)!  If you can relate to when you felt similar feelings as a child, or even when you felt such feelings as an adult, this often helps them to normalize their feelings and it’s a great way to share examples of how you worked through those feelings, to give them ideas of how they can manage them too. “When I was a little girl, there were times my brother – your uncle –  would make me so upset too!  My body felt so angry, and it felt like I wanted to hit him, but instead, I had to take deep breaths and figure out another way to get those angry feelings out! Sometimes I would stomp my feet or I would even take a pillow and hit that instead! And only after I felt calmer again, then I could talk to my brother about how I was feeling.”


In tough moments, if your little one’s strong emotions are triggering stress for you, and you can feel yourself getting worked up, step away and take a break for yourself.  Taking ten deep breaths, or getting a drink of water for yourself is great modeling for your child too. It’s ok for you to also name your feelings, “I’m starting to get frustrated, so I need to take some deep breaths.” Your child may even join you in this!  You can even convey to your child, “I want to try to calm myself right now, because even I get big feelings sometimes, and this helps me work through them.”  


Parenting is not an easy journey, but it helps to brainstorm and talk through ideas together, so please know I’d be happy to be of support to you if needed! It takes a village!


Wishing you all a wonderful weekend.  Enjoy this Indian Summer we’re having!


Best, Reena (


Posted in 0-6 - Reena Morgan