As a parent, you know that big feelings can be tough to work through. Disappointment, loss, anticipation, excitement, or anger are difficult for mature minds to manage, so you can imagine (and maybe even remember) how overwhelming these emotions can be for a child or teen. Being able to cope with strong emotions, sometimes referred to as emotional regulation, is an important part of your child establishing and maintaining healthy and helpful relationships.

Not surprisingly, children who feel like they can manage their emotions are also more likely to feel confident and content. What may be surprising, however, is that emotional regulation may play a role in child sexual abuse. Loneliness, feelings of disconnect, or shame may all contribute to a child being vulnerable to sexual abuse, so helping a child work through those overwhelming feelings is important for their safety and well-being. (And it makes parenting them a lot easier, too!)

Another risk factor to consider is that impulsive behaviors may be driven by strong emotions. In other words, a child may behave in a way that is out of character for them when they are overwhelmed by feelings that they can’t manage. As a society we’re beginning to address this in relationship to self-harm, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts, but we’ve left out another critical element: Impulsive behavior may be one cause of concerning sexual behaviors from one child to another, behavior that could cause long-term impact and trauma for both the one acting and the one being acted upon.

Coping with emotions requires patience and practice, for you and your kid. You may find it helpful to use our emotion wheel to help them put their feelings into words. Maybe your child would enjoy expressing their emotion through movement or art. What really empowers your child to cope with an overwhelming emotion is being able to identify it, feel it (not fight it), find a way to manage it in a healthy way, and be reassured that the feeling will eventually pass.

Visit our Coping with Emotions Resources page for additional suggestions and activities. And, to help your child be more aware of their feelings and accompanying physical and emotional responses, you might consider helping them with mindfulness practices geared toward kids.

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