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27 March 2019

Big Feelings

  • Student Wellbeing

Children and adolescents have the same big feelings that we do. The difference for adults, though, is that we have more life experience to know how to deal with these difficult emotions. When our young people feel fear, anxiety, or anger, they often need our help to learn how to cope - even late teenagers can always use some help to increase their emotional skills. Here are some tips:

Name the feeling

Help your child figure out which feeling they are having or were having. Putting a name to it can help validate their experience and can strengthen their emotional intelligence. For younger children, having a feelings poster or reading children’s books about feelings can be helpful to identify their own feeling.

Normalize the feeling

It can be confusing for a young person whose feelings take over and lead to behaviours they may not usually have. Explain that all people have these feelings sometimes, and we all have to learn how to manage them. Try not to minimize their experience - explain that you understand how they must be feeling.

Talk about the brain

Our brains and our bodies are connected, and our brains send out signals when we experience certain 'big feelings.' Explain that we have a part of our brain (thinking brain) that is in charge of making decisions, thinking things through, and managing our emotions. Explain that another part of our brain (emotional brain) is in charge of important things like breathing, and holds onto big feelings like anger or anxiety; this part of our brain also reacts to any threats, and can make us feel like we need to run (flight), fight back, or freeze. Sometimes this part of our brain overreacts, and we need to try strategies to calm it down.

For a full script of the brain conversation, visit

Practice self-regulation skills

When children are calm, their thinking brain is on, and this is the best time to come up with a plan for when their emotional brain tries to take over. Encourage taking a break (not a time out), deep breathing, releasing angry energy by exercising, and relaxation strategies such as progressive muscle relaxation, colouring, calm down jars, music, etc. Encourage them to find what works for them and then to practice these repeatedly when they are calm. Helping your child begin to recognize their body’s early signs of a big feeling (heart racing, clenched jaw, etc.) can also help them learn when to employ their self-regulation skills.

For more information and strategies for self-regulation, visit

Kat Clark
Student Wellbeing Coordinator