How to Help Children Navigate Their Emotions – with Natalie Costa

How to Help Children Navigate Their Emotions with Natalie Costa

7 March 2022 • Words by Anniki Sommerville 4 mins

Authored by Anniki Sommerville, Head of Community Engagement at Bubble

We are coming out of a difficult time and it will take time for things to feel ‘more normal.’

As we come out of restrictions we may have expectations that our children will go back to behaving in the way they did pre-pandemic. Some parenting advice can make it feel like we should try and behave as if things are normal even if they aren’t. However, families and children have had to navigate a lot of change and instability with periods of isolation, homeschooling, and schools closing altogether. It’s unlikely that they will suddenly feel calm and confident just because our lives are becoming more like they were before. In addition, many children have grown up with the pandemic as a constant noise and disruptive force in the background and it will take time for them to understand that it no longer presents the same challenges as it did before. This is true for parents too who have been on high alert and ‘survival mode’ for a long period of time and might be experiencing more anxiety and worry than they did before the pandemic.

Natalie explains: ‘The after-school meltdowns are common for many parents and we’re coming out of a difficult time with so much change and kids have been at school and then not at school. We had a good two years of this. So now they’re learning to socialize again. Learning how to be comfortable in groups. And then there is also the fact that they need to get comfortable with the school system and the way it is structured and has a certain routine. It’s a shock to the system for children. We can forget that. If things feel bumpy then it’s going to take time for us to come out of that. Practice self-compassion for yourself and for compassion for them too.’ 

There are ways we can navigate our way through difficult emotions.

We all have times when we find our own emotions running out of control because our child isn’t behaving in a way that we like or they’re going through strong emotions and can’t handle them. Traditionally some parenting advice might tell us to tell our children off when they’re behaving in a way that isn’t agreeable to us. However, it’s important that we instead get them to acknowledge that life sometimes makes us experience strong emotions, and it’s entirely normal. Natalie has clear advice on how to help ourselves and our children so we can learn something in these times of crisis:

‘For many of us, we’re also learning how to work with our own difficult feelings. Just like we are going through those big feelings our children are going through them, too. The first tip is to be mindful of your expectations. Understand that your child might feel like they are pushing boundaries but, in reality, the emotional side of their brain is still developing. When they feel these feelings it feels really big, and they don’t have the words or the tools to think rationally or clearly. Don’t think, “They are doing this to me.” Instead, think, “They are having a hard time, and they need me as that safe space for them.”‘

It’s important to stay calm and manage our own emotions as parents.

In the old days, parenting advice might have focused on how we could use threats or bribes to manage our children’s behavior. However, this isn’t helpful as it does little to help children understand why they feel a certain way and how they can better navigate these feelings in the future.

At times we may be exacerbating negative situations because we’re responding with more anger and frustration rather than trying to think about our child’s perspective and how they’re feeling. Staying present is important and there are some tools that can help with this.

Natalie continues: ‘The other thing is to think about staying calm. Do some work as a parent. If you know that you tend to get angry or snap, what can you do to support yourself at that moment? Think about it before it happens. Are you trying deep breathing to bring yourself back into the present? Maybe using a calming mantra, instead? These tools bring the emotion down a level. We also know when we are less tolerant because we’re maybe tired or dehydrated. What can you do to fill up the tank so that you are more tolerant?’

Wait until time has passed and then discuss what’s happened and what you can learn.

Sometimes we might feel too upset or angry to talk about what’s happened. We may be struggling emotionally. In this situation, it’s important to wait till the dust has settled and then approach your child and talk through what’s happened. It’s possible to repair the damage if you’ve shouted and lost your temper, as long as you explain why you were feeling this way and apologize.

Natalie elaborates on this: ‘Talk to them afterward and say something like, “Remember that time when we both got upset, what would have helped you in that time?” Then talk about some techniques that helped you and could help them too, like breathing or a mantra, for example.’

Remember guilt isn’t helpful unless you address what’s happened and use it to improve your communication.

Ruminating about how you’ve failed as a parent and feeling guilty isn’t helpful unless you address what’s happened and talk to your child about what went wrong. 

Natalie summarises: ‘If you have lost your temper, then don’t beat yourself up. You are human. Every moment is an opportunity to try and do better. I often say it’s useful to think about the feeling underneath the anger and discuss this with your child. Talk about those feelings and ask, “What is behind the angry mask?” Give them the words for those feelings and ask them to talk about what was behind their angry mask?’

This way, you are using the experience to teach your child about talking about their feelings and letting them know that anger is normal. There are usually other emotions underneath that are driving that response.

Most importantly, remember that parenting advice is important but we all make parenting mistakes. Our main objective as parents is to teach our children to be comfortable in expressing and describing their emotions, have a range of tools they can use to help navigate bumps in the road, and know that feeling overwhelmed or out of balance is normal too.

Try these Moshi Moments as support to conversations you have with your little ones about their feelings:

This article is brought to you in partnership with Bubble – Find brilliant sitters and nannies recommended by your friends and community.


App store:


Anniki Sommerville