What Do You Do When They Lose Their Cool

“When my child doesn’t manage her emotions…that stresses me out! Then I want to fix it but I also want my child to learn skills to handle situations herself.  What do I do?” 


During recent consultations in one HMI community, parents with young children were asked about their experiences, especially those related to the social and emotional aspects of their children’s (and their own) lives. Stories of personal growth that have been collected were full of the raw honesty that many parenting situations are tough to handle. Stress in children (and in parents) is a common trend. In fact, research confirms this with the suggestion that children have much higher levels of physiological stress than they did a generation ago, and we, as adults, need to become aware that their challenging behaviours may be the result of these high levels of stress.

Be on the lookout for these physical clues that indicate a child may be experiencing excessive stress:

• whining
• poor listening
• crying
• nail biting
• day dreaming
• fighting with friends and family
• being overly cautious
• poor school performance
• change in appetite
• tense muscles
• headaches or stomach-aches
• being cold
• disturbed sleep
• poor concentration
• forgetfulness
• difficulty problem-solving
• being easily distracted
• confusion

“My 15 month old son’s emotions pass very quickly and he can be easily distracted but it is a different story for my 4 year old. When she is really upset, she can’t handle it! Sometimes she stubs her toe and she acts like she has lost her leg!“


Build a child’s ability to manage stressful situations with the following highly effective strategies.

  1. Gain a sense of control with the help of a “feeling vocabulary.” Naming emotions helps a child to recognize what is going on in their bodies and react appropriately. Build your family’s feeling vocabulary through books, stories and acknowledging and accepting each others’ emotions.

  2. Learn how to relax with deep breathing, mindfulness activities and/or physical activity.

  1. Seemingly insurmountable problems can be chunked down into small manageable steps. Work towards goals gradually, find support and use relaxation techniques every step of the way!

  1. Develop a “can-do” attitude. Children who experience small successes and maintain high but reasonable expectations of themselves build confidence and a sense of agency to tackle challenging situations.

Self-regulation is the term used to describe how children can, themselves, deal with being over-stressed by recognizing the signs, reducing their physiological stress, managing their emotions in order to become and stay calm and alert. These strategies strengthen a child’s ability to self-regulate.

“I don’t think it’s only about how I manage my kids’ behaviours, the question is how do I manage mine?”


Prevention is ALWAYS the first option.  Prevent stress in adults and children with the basics – healthy food, adequate sleep as well as relationships full of love, attention, listening and respect.

Learn more from UBC Professor of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience Dr. Adele Diamond in the following video as she offers ways to improve self-regulation and problem solving.


Psychology Foundation of Canada

Canadian Self-Regulation Initiative

BC FRIENDS for Life Parent Program


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