Helping your child manage BIG emotions - reassuring advice from Illawarra Psychologist...

 Helen Booth - Psychologist and Guest Author from Walk Different Psychology, Wollongong Thu 21 September 17


I think most of us parents have been there... Seeing our child go into a huge destructive meltdown as they become overwhelmed by their emotions. When it's bad, people and possessions can get hurt...

Helen Booth, a local registered Psychologist from Walk Different, has top tips for parents which she would love to share.

So you know this is coming from a credible source, Walk Different is a beautiful Wollongong based organisation offering Counselling and Psychologist services but outside in nature so you can walk and talk or for children, play and chat - I know, how awesome that therapy can be free from the usual formality and include exercise!

Helen often works with both parents and children from age two up. Commonly with children who are struggling to manage their emotions, anxiety, friendships or are experiencing periods of transition like a separation of parents, and also with teens who are struggling to find and value themselves as they navigate their way towards adulthood and independence. 

Helen also notes how parents particularly mum's, feel pressure from society, media and their networks to get parenting not only right, but do it perfectly. The anxiety experienced by parents is on the increase as we grapple with the demands of family life, the isolation that can come with parenthood, financial pressures and a lack of time to meet our own needs. More on that another time - back to managing child fury first!


Helen's advice for parents to help their child manage BIG emotions before, during and after the meltdown:

- Reassurance: when your child is calm and can listen,  start from an early age to reassure them that their emotions and what they feel inside (sadness, fear, anger, frustration, joy, worry) are normal and that everyone has them. 

- Awareness:  get your child to label their emotions and know how certain emotions feel in their body.  Identification as emotions start to build is a critical life long skill. If we can notice and manage our emotions before we become too overwhelmed by them, we tend to get a much better outcome!

- Signposts:  Explain emotions as being like signposts, it is our brain attempting to tell us whether we like things or not. If we ignore our emotions they get louder and louder!

- Pay attention to those signposts: If we pay attention when the emotions are small, we can manage them and make more informed decisions. If we ignore them, they can overwhelm us and that can be a frightening experience for anyone, adult or child.

- We can't think straight in the face of big emotions! The surge of fight or flight kicks in, releasing the stress hormones and a massive surge of adrenaline. Now is not the time to have a rational conversation with your child! Tears are a way of physical excreting that stress (tears, when we are emotional, have stress hormones in them) so being told not to cry doesn't actually help.

- Safety first: in the face of a big meltdown your child's safety comes first, if they are so angry they are hurting themselves or others - they need relocating to somewhere safer as a priority 

- Self-care second: reassurance and making our way back to calm is the next goal. As hard as it for parents and carers to keep their cool in the face of such extreme behaviour, your calm energy can help offset the intense rage and overwhelm. Encourage your child to take breaths and reassure them at this time, your child has effectively lost control and they can feel very frightened by this.

- Conversation after the calm: talking through what lead to the situation, identifying the feelings involved and the possible triggers is helpful to build the awareness

- Ideal end state: Is for your child to learn they do have control because they do have choices. With a growing awareness of the smaller feelings (before they become too big and overwhelming and lead to the explosive meltdown) your child can start to learn to manage these smaller feelings, gradually finding the words to express them, or ways to manage them, as they mature


You can also model the Walk Different's approach to care and support. Walk Different often get to the underlying issues that drive unwanted feelings and behaviour much more quickly because the counselling and therapy session is more natural, involves movement (or play for kids), less direct eye contact, is more freeing for body and mind and also generates all the physical well-being benefits that come with exercise.


A couple of the questions that parents can ask their kids on are: "What was your favourite part of today and why?" "Was there anything that worried you or that you didn't like today?"

Whilst playing or walking you can ask your child to spot one thing with each of their five senses or you can ask "Are there any thoughts that keep coming back to visit your mind?" The kids can draw it in the sand or act it out for you if outside the house.



If you are concerned about your child or your own health and wellbeing, please visit your GP and / or make contact with Walk Different,  together through walking and talking you can access the support that pretty much all of us need at times.


Walk Different's info and contact details are below - and many thanks to Helen Booth for taking them time to share her experience with Parents Guide!


Walk Different Psychology provides Walk and Talk Psychology sessions for children, teens, adults and couples across the Illawarra and Shire regions (Wollongong, Dapto, Shellharbour, Bulli and Cronulla).

We are psychologists who had an office once. While working in that office we loved what we did. We took pride in getting the most out of our clients and as such looked beyond traditional treatment techniques. We would often incorporate suggestions around the outdoors and exercise to improve our clients' mood. Then one day, we decided it was time to make that change. Ever since that fateful day, we have operated our business outdoors, in the fresh air.

Our Walk and Talk sessions offer an alternative to the traditional office settings and promote a more relaxed, natural and holistic approach to Psychology. Parents are welcome to bring their bubs in a pram along for the walk or their fur babies!

Our services include:

  • Walk & Talk Sessions (Private & Medicare)
  • Couples Counselling
  • Child, teen & adult psychology
  • Phone sessions
  • 30-min Power Sessions
  • Pregnancy Support Counselling (Private & Medicare)

We work with various presentations including but not limited to:

  • ADHD
  • Anxiety
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Couples Counselling
  • Depression
  • Grief
  • Insomnia
  • OCD
  • Postpartum Disorders
  • Parenting
  • Social Anxiety
  • Stress

To make an appointment today, you can do so online by clicking here or calling (02) 4244 7054

With our thanks to Walk Different for working in partnership with Parents Guide Illawarra and sponsoring this article :)



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