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Helping Young Children Manage Emotion

Author: Michele Tryon, CCLS
Published Date: Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Children go through a range of emotions every day. How do we know what they are feeling? They show us and tell us with their facial expressions, body language, sounds, words and behavior. It is important for parents to recognize that all feelings are okay. A child’s feelings can be recognized and accepted, even if their behavior needs redirecting.

One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is emotional literacy. When they are experiencing strong emotions, we can teach them words to use and actions to take in order to get their needs met in healthy, positive ways. Learning these skills now, will ultimately help them succeed in life.

A.C.T. is a powerful three-step technique that can be used to encourage cooperation when a child’s behavior is challenging.

Acknowledge, Communicate and Target/Teach/Troubleshoot

  1. Acknowledge your child’s feelings, desires or wants. When children feel overwhelmed with emotions they need reassurance that they are heard and understood.
    • “You look sad.”
    • “You really want to stay outside and play.”
    • “You wish you could have ice cream right now.”
  2. Communicate in a way that calms and comforts your child. Then, set safe limits and establish expectations and family roles.
    • Calm and comfort first, “Take a deep breath. I’m here. You are safe.”
    • Set limits in terms of safety, “Hitting is dangerous.”
    • Establish expectations (rules), “We talk kindly to each other.” 
    • Define the roles (jobs) that you and your children have within the family.
      • “It’s my job to keep you safe. It’s your job to tell me if you are scared.”
      • “It’s my job to make sure you have healthy foods to eat.
      • It’s your job to eat good foods, before you have a treat.”
  3. Target/Teach/Troubleshoot
    • Once you acknowledge and communicate, you can then target a desirable behavior. If you take away a behavior such as hitting, replace it with a desirable behavior – using words to describe feelings. If your child has thrown a toy, have them pick it up and put it back where it belongs.
    • Teach a child the skills necessary to make a positive choice and be successful. For example, show a child how to turn a puzzle piece several different ways until it fits in, so they don’t get frustrated.
    • Troubleshoot the problem. Children who are calm and capable can sort through a situation and come up with a solution. Ask, “What do you think you could do?” or “I wonder what I could do to help you?”

Interested in additional parenting tips? Attend our free Parent Academy workshops. See our class schedule here.

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About Michele Tryon, CCLS

Michele Tryon, CHKD community outreach coordinator and parent educator has worked with children and families for 30 years, providing services in the hospital, home, school and community setting. Michele is a Certified Child Life Specialist, a Certified Positive Discipline™ parent educator, a nationally recognized trainer/consultant for Nurturing Parenting Programs™ and co-author of The Nurturing Program for Parents and Their Children with Special Needs and Health Challenges©.