Big Feelings – and how to deal with them?

How To Talk book cover 2012

I recently received this post in my How To Talk So Kids Will Listen 2016 group (currently closed to new members – new coaching programmes coming out soon on – stay tuned)

‘I feel a bit at my wits end with H (3.5) at the moment. Very defiant and rude and yelling at me etc.? I just get down on his level and try to empathise and wait it out. However this is so hard with a 6 month old too.
He’s great with words and after will tell me “I had big feelings or I was So frustrated I just yelled” But after an hour it’s hard to remain chipper. I’m just so tired by this time of night from keeping my composure etc’ M.

Below is my  reply – but so many parents myself included struggle with this – showing empathy and validating emotion but not knowing how to move on!  I thought there might be some strategies there for you to try too?

‘Hi M. – I know what you mean – especially if the big feeling is directed angrily at you, it is exhausting to be patient and show empathy 🙂 For me, each kid and age and stage have been different with how it works best to respond to their big feelings. I like the approach by Dan Siegel (The Whole Brain Child)– he says to empathise and allow feelings – and to help kids know how to process and move through them and his great advice is to get kids moving… This works for all my kids, but especially my boys – and for me too really!

So when overcome with a big feeling, 9/10, flipping the lid, reaction – it can feel really scary and overwhelming. By going for a walk, running, jumping 20x, racing out to the back fence and back – this can help to engage the ‘brake’ (mindfulness) part of the brain to help to dissipate the emotion enough to be able to make some good choices about what is needed… (for you and for them).   This isn’t distraction – as you still validate the emotion – instead it is teaching them a life skill;  when overwhlemed – move & make choices and decisions later.

I would usually discuss with kids when they are calm, ‘what will we do when there’s a big feeling?’ They may have one thing they do – or they may have several (you can put pictures up on the fridge). Then in the heat of the moment – if they choose not to do any of those agreed things – you role model it – by saying:  ‘ no worries, I can see you are sooo mad, I’m feeling (X) too – so I think I’ll run out to the clothesline and back (or whatever you have agreed on!) – come and join me when you are ready.’

This way too you are validating feelings, role modeling how to deal with them but also showing that your feelings are important too. That is the firm bit of kind & firm (Kind & Firm video  )– respect for yourself, for others & for situation.

So it is great to teach kids I’ll validate your emotions, but if the anger is directed at me I can only listen for a short time – and then I need to do something to calm me down. It’s been great for me to build that understanding (slowly) in our house – that we all need to go and do what works for us to calm down – before we can then talk about it… (Video on Big Feelings: )

I know for me personally – I have sometimes sat and stewed on an emotion and felt worse…but if I go for a drive or go for a walk or go outside I begin to feel better – and then solutions come. My friend once had her daughter at age 6 do the worst hysterical tantrum she had ever seen – at a beautiful serene hotel pool adn she was dumbstruck – couldn’t think of anything to say or do and then remembered Dan Siegel’s ‘MOVE” – so grabbed her hand and said ‘Mia lets run!!!’ It took two whole blocks before she felt the softening and the ending of the tears and then she could give her a hug and have a chat about the scenario. I love that story!

When we go camping, or to stay with others, – I still say to my kids – ‘what are you going to do if you feel overwhelmed and get really angry with someone – what is our agreed plan?’ In the past we have picked the ‘fighting’ tree – ‘if you want to fight with eachother you need to take it to the tree’ – 9/10 times – just the mere act of walking to the tree helps to calm the situation and for them to decide to come back! Harder with younger kids – but generally if you walk to the tree – you feel better and they follow?

Sorry to write so much but to me it has been the biggest issue to get my head around! What do you think, will any of this work? 🙂 Sara

It was great to receive M’s reply:

‘Thank you so much!! I will definitely get into this. I love the Move idea! I always have tried to yell into a pillow to show him that’s how I get frustrated.
I will love to try this with him to see if I can get in there in the moment he is so enraged.. If not right then I can talk to him afterward about doing it next time to see if it makes up feel better.
Thank you so so much for your guidance and words ❤️❤️❤️’

What do you think?  Anything helpful there to help you or your child when experiencing a big feeling?

Cheers, Sara 🙂

Mindful Emotions



Just last week I had an experience which was a perfect metaphor for dealing with feelings mindfully. I went down to my local calm swimming lagoon, with my goggles and snorkel for a quick refreshing swim before our mindfulness practice group on Tuesday. I should mention here that I have a mild fear of stingrays…. So I was swimming out and there was a HUGE stingray swimming past me and I mean huge, just under a metre across, I have never seen one like it…I was able to breathe and sit/swim with the fear and keep going…..then there was a granddaddy stingray, nestled in the sand, only a casual wave of his flipper alerting me he was there… my heart was racing so I was breathing, talking to myself and to him ‘ it’s OK, I’ll let you have your space’ and I start back pedalling…admiring his form, still staying calm and sitting/swimming with my fear, then as I head back to shore one shoots past me – now I’m feeling uncomfortable….heart now in my mouth, still breathing, still talking gently to myself and then as I’m almost there, safely in the shallows, there’s one more – and I feel completely freaked out – I have to get out now!!!! And I breathe to calm myself down when I’m out of the water, away from the fear!!!

This to me is my experience of dealing with emotion…we can learn how to acknowledge our emotions, learn how to breathe through them, learn how to talk to ourselves calmly and gently – and we’ll still have times when we are completely overcome! In my mindfulness practice though if this happens then I find myself calming down alot quicker than I used to!

So my favourite way of dealing with emotions mindfully is to use the RAIN acronym:

•R – Recognize what is happening- give your feeling a label – even this is enough to calm down our emotional limbic brain a little bit the research shows – try it …’here is fear’

•A – Allow life to be just as it is, it is often our struggle with an emotion – trying to bury it, squash it, say I ‘shouldn’t’ feel like that, deny it that makes it worse and bigger. By adding these thoughts to an emotion we add fule to the fire and escalate the emotion. By the time I saw my fourth stingray I was focussed on the stinger and Steve Irwin and my brain was firing away to escalate the fear!!

•I – Investigate your inner experience with kindness- how do you feel this in your body? where? what shape? size? can I breathe around it / into it….

•N – Nurture yourself – whatever you need in this moment…for me after a little while it was to get out of the water – for Tara Brach she shares imagining a kiss on the brow, or you could put a kind hand on your heart and say ‘there, there, little one,it’s OK…’ as they do in ACT Mindfully

If you have read the How To Talk So Kids Will Listen book you will recognise that these are the same strategies we would use to acknowledge a child’s feelings…and Thich Nhat Hanh suggests we do this with ourselves when we are feeling BIG feelings – parent our own inner child…give ourselves the empathy we would give to a good friend or to a fearful child…

Give it a go…if you feel an emotion, label it (e.g. irritation), allow it, breathe into it and see where it sits in your body, and then nurture yourself – what is it you need right now?

For more info there is an article on RAIN of self-compassion by Tara Brach and for a MEDITATION exercise I would recommend: The RAIN of self- compassion by Tara Brach 

This is one of my favourite meditations for dealing with BIG Feelings – and for giving yourself some compassion & empathy and nurturing – perfect if you are feeling bad about how you have interacted with someone lately…instead of beating yourself up – you can do this – it’s only 10 minutes long….the aim isn’t to feel better afterwards – it’s to sit with the feeling mindfully – but it often shifts something within – makes it a little easier 🙂 Give it a go – see if it’s for you? I’d love to hear how you find it? 🙂

Good Luck with it this week – be gentle on yourself 🙂 Sara x