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Close up of a child hugging her teddy bear

Little People, Big Emotions

Children may be small in size, but they have big emotions. Many times, little value is placed on the emotional intelligence of children. Without even realizing it, we send messages to our children that their feelings don't matter.

Have you ever heard an adult talk to a child and use statements like these?

1. "There is nothing to cry about."

2. "Stop being bad."

3. "There's nothing to be scared of."

4. "Stop crying, it doesn't hurt."

Now, imagine you're having a rough morning. You woke up with a headache and every little nuisance that could go wrong – well, it did. By the time you get to work, you're feeling stressed. Your coworker asks how you're doing. Out of frustration you begin to cry. She looks at you and says: "You're a big girl. Stop crying and wipe your face." Whoa! Did she really just say that? Would you say something like that to a friend or colleague? My guess is, probably not. So, why is it OK to talk to our kids like this?

What if we chose to use our words to empower our children to work through their feelings? Let's rephrase the above statements in a way that acknowledges the child's feelings and focuses on redirecting behaviors, rather than dismissing emotions.

1. “I see Sissy is crying. She is sad because you took her toy. You wanted a turn, but Sissy wasn’t finished. Let's give Sissy a hug and ask if you can have a turn when she is finished. Or maybe we can all play together with the toy.”

2. “Throwing your toys is not OK. If you’re frustrated, say: “I’m mad,” or ask for help.”

3. “I know the dark feels scary. Let's investigate together and use a flashlight to see if everything in your room is the same in the dark as it is in the light.”

4. I'm so sorry you bumped your head. Let's get an ice pack and a kiss from Mommy. You are going to be OK.

The next time a child in your world has a meltdown, take a moment to think how to communicate with them in a positive way. We want to stay composed, so we can acknowledge their feelings and teach them how to handle upsets. It does take extra effort, but as adults if we work to control our emotions and actions, we are making a valuable investment in their emotional development – and ours!

For more ideas on supporting your child’s emotional development, check out the Parent Academy workshops: Helping Young Children Manage Emotion or Children and Stress. Register at

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About Adrianna and Ryan Walden

About Adrianna and Ryan  Walden Ryan and Adrianna Walden have been married for 14 years. The two met when she was working for an arena football team in Norfolk where he was playing football. Ryan is a service coordinator with the Chesapeake Early Intervention Program and Adrianna is a Licensing Specialist for Children's Programs. Both have enjoyed teaching CHKD’s "Happiest Baby" class together for the past eight years. Together they have one daughter, who despite early health issues, is now a thriving and happy school-age child. The Walden's also lead a weekly community group through their church for married couples and their children.