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Children Need Adults to Help Them Manage Their Emotions

Managing behaviour and emotions that is challenging can be very stressful for parents of children and adults with special needs. But it’s important to see it as a form of communication.

It is important for the development of children’s self-regulation skills, resilience, sense of self, nurturing their mental health and well being.

Emotional reflections

The table below shows how emotion reflections might be used.

When care givers… This helps …

1. Observe

Don’t say anything. Watch first. Pay attention to the situation. What was the build up? (e.g., what happened before the child displayed their emotion?). Watch for facial expressions, tone of voice and posture, as well as listening to what the child is saying to get a complete picture.

Adults to have a better understanding of:

  • what the child may be experiencing and why
  •  how the child expresses their emotions.

2. Notice all emotions

Both positive and less positive emotions.

  • Children to understand that all emotions, positive and less positive, are valid and worth expressing.

3. Assess

What do you think the child may be feeling? Try not to judge what you think the cause of their emotion may be (although you may have some thoughts about it).

  • Adults to think about what the child is experiencing and be open minded until you have more information.

4. Reflect the child’s emotions back to them

Make a brief statement to the child describing how they appear to you and the emotion you think you observed (e.g., “you look sad”; or “you seem excited”).

  • Children to feel acknowledged and understood.
  • Children to not feel overwhelmed by adults using too many words or complicated language or asking difficult questions such as “How are you feeling?

5. Use a variety of feeling words

Over time children experience more differentiated emotions (e.g., excited, angry, frustrated, lonely) from the primary emotions (happy, mad, sad, afraid).

  • Children to build their dictionary of feeling words.
  • Children increase their capacity to distinguish between different emotions.

6.  Acknowledge

Acknowledge children’s emotions even when you are not comfortable with them or think they are unreasonable.

  • Children feel understood and increases the likelihood they will share their feelings with others in the future so adults can help them develop constructive ways of dealing with their emotions.
  • Adults to recognize the child’s viewpoint which may be different from their own.

7.  Revise

Revise inaccurate reflections


  • Adults become better at reflecting children’s emotions.
  • Children to practise using words to express their emotions.
  • Children feel understood and capable which is important for their developing sense of self.

(Source: Kostelnik, M.J., Whiren, A.B., Soderman, A.K.,& Gregory, K (2006). Guiding children’s social development. Theory to practice (5th ed). Thomson Delmar Learning: NY)

Parents and carers can also use non-verbal communication to reflect children’s emotions. Non-verbal communication includes body positioning, hand and arm gestures, and body language. It is important for children’s emotional development that parents’ and carers’ use of words, visual and sound cues to convey a single message. For example, talking in a calm voice with open body language (e.g., holding arms open) and a kind expression conveys gentleness, safety and trust. This helps ensure adults’ non-verbal messages reflect and are consistent with their verbal messages to children.

How you are is as important as what you say or do. Mixed messages can be confusing for children.

In conclusion, when adults understand and respect children for who they are and how they experience the world, children feel understood and valued. Children are more likely to have more positive experiences and feel less overwhelmed or out of control when they have the time and space they need to be themselves. Adults can help children to remain calm and manage their emotions by following the child’s lead and respecting their need.

Semakan Akhir : 1 Mac 2017
Penulis : Noor Suraya binti Muhamad
Akreditor : Ruhana binti Mahmod