How to Help Your Kids Navigate Difficult Emotions

young girl struggling with complicated emotions sitting on a chair in her room with a sad look on her face

Article By: Jennifer Bryant

The nurse rolled her over to me on a cart with squeaky wheels, and her wrinkled face squinted to open two hazy blue eyes. Worn and disheveled from way too many hours of labor and the inevitable surgery, I received her brand new little body like a fresh bouquet. 

Everything about this little person would be my responsibility. 

The first time I heard her cry in her quietly sweet infant voice, my cheeks strained to hold an ear to ear grin. In this same moment, a gentle wave of panic swept across my chest. 

How could I help calm her fears?
Would I be enough of the mother she needed?
How am I going to keep her safe?

Motherhood: An Emotional Journey

The moment we are responsible for another human, is the moment our own emotional journey begins. We jump on the learning curve of feeding and diapering routines, soon to discover that their feeble cries require a confident response from us. 

The way we respond to our kids is important, because it tells a story of the emotional values we carried into adulthood:

Will my parents comfort me when I cry?
Do they care that I’m hungry, cold, or tired?
Will my basic needs be met?

The moment we are responsible for another human, is the moment our own emotional journey begins.Click to Tweet

As parents, it’s easy to plummet into hopeless frustration when the baby just won’t stop crying because they don’t have the words to tell you what is wrong. 

Or when your toddler angrily heaves his toys across the room because he can’t fit the blocks together. 

When the eight-year-old is sad, but she ignores your attempts to comfort her. 

When your pre-teen just slammed the door, annoyed by your third request to pick up his room. 

When the sixteen-year-old is filled with hormones, one minute sobbing, and the next blasting you with all the things you’ve been doing wrong as a parent.

young girl covering her ears with an anxious look on her face, kids navigate emotions

Riding the Roller Coaster of Parenting

Sometimes my mama heart can’t bear to see the pain of their tear-stained faces. 

Other times, I’m the one who used harsh words to control a volatile situation, only to breed hurt and resentment in their hearts. This is when I need to model humility and ask forgiveness. 

It’s no secret that parenting feels like one big roller-coaster ride. From elation to embarrassment, we will have to guide our kids through the ups and downs of life. 

But we don’t have to do it alone. 

God gave us emotions to help us relate to each other, as warning signals when something is wrong, and to experience, worship, and praise Him. 

God gave us emotions to help us relate to each other, as warning signals when something is wrong, and to experience, worship, and praise Him.Click to Tweet

We cycle through life’s most important learning processes when we try new things like risk-taking, perseverance, success, failure, disappointment, hope, delayed gratification, greed, envy, or anger. 

While our feelings are not to be relied on for discerning truth, they are helpful indicators to remind us to seek God for help. 

We can teach our children to treat their emotions more like a gauge, instead of a guide. 

Christian mom teaching her young daughter how to navigate difficult emotions

Emotional Reactions in Scripture

In Genesis 43 and 45, the story of Joseph shows him being overcome with emotion to see his brothers come to Egypt after they had sold him into slavery in his youth. 

We witness how he chose to handle that situation with God’s leading and grace. 

We see in the Psalms how King David cried out to God, as he wrote songs and poetry, even in his anguish.

“I am worn out from my groaning. All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes.Psalm 6:6-7 (NIV)

This honest and expressive practice allowed David to release his heart to God, and then return in the same song to praise God and recall His goodness and faithfulness. 

“Away from me, all you who do evil, for the Lord has heard my weeping. The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer.” Psalm 6:8-9 (NIV)

Even Jesus was seen to shed tears at the death of His friend Lazarus, as He was “moved and deeply troubled” (Jn 11:35), and cry out to God in the Garden of Gethsemane (Lk 22:39-46). 

He speaks in a parable of the lost sheep about rejoicing when the Shepherd leaves the ninety-nine and finds the one (Matt 18:13). 

Mother and daughter coloring together at the table.

The Trouble with Suppressing Emotions

It is common for little people who are extra-sensitive to grow up with the stigma that their tears mean weakness or fear. Especially when the “tough” kids are picked for every sport, or elevated into leadership positions. 

Confidence and meekness are not necessarily opposites. 

There is great freedom in vulnerability. When kids can be encouraged to release their feelings to a trusted adult who can empathize, they will take bigger steps toward bravery and growth. 

If we tell our kids to be brave and hold back tears (possibly at an inopportune time), we must always be ready to help them release those tears and talk through their feelings later. 

Kids need help to identify what they are feeling so they can understand how to pray through any situation. 

Kids need help to identify what they are feeling so they can understand how to pray through any situation.Click to Tweet

Children who cannot identify their feelings often act out in anger, or learn to stonewall in silence. 

Without a healthy outlet, repressed feelings will always come out in other ways, including physical illness, and anxiety disorders.

Christian mom playing blocks with her young daughter who is smiling

How God Helps Us Navigate Emotion

God does not condemn us for having emotions; they are a natural part of the human experience. But God has also given us free will, and we get to decide how much to let our emotions control us, and how much we rely on Him. 

Paul encouraged the Ephesians:

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” Ephesians 4:26-27 (ESV)

Paul reminded young Timothy as he took a leadership role in the early church:

For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” 2 Timothy 1:7 (ESV)

Our natural, human reactions are to fear, but God responds with, “do not fear… for I am with you.” (Is 41:10). 

We have a choice to be overcome by fear, or find peace in the presence of our great God. 

When we are not aware of our own feelings, it can be frustrating to deal with our little people and their sensitivities. Ask God to help you identify what triggers your own emotions so you can respond to your children with wisdom in their struggles.

Ask God to help you identify what triggers your own emotions so you can respond to your children with wisdom in their struggles.Click to Tweet
Kids need help to identify what they are feeling so they can learn how to treat their emotions more like a gauge, instead of a guide.

Kids need to know their emotions are okay, but show them the way out when they get lost or confused in those circumstances. 

Try not to react in anger, because chances are, they probably don’t fully understand what’s happening. 

You’ve walked a little further in life, so give them the benefit of your experience and point them back to God. 

Share with them about the times when you’ve been upset, were afraid, or just needed a good cry. 

Remind them that this world is full of up and down experiences, but Jesus promises to be with us through them all. 

When we handle our children’s emotions with understanding and grace, we give them the gift of a well-balanced emotional life, and a deeper connection with their Savior. 

When we handle our children’s emotions with understanding and grace, we give them the gift of a well-balanced emotional life, and a deeper connection with their Savior.Click to Tweet

-Jennifer Bryant

Jennifer Bryant is the wife of a good man and mother of two precious kids. Her favorite things include reading, organizing, blogging, singing with her kids, laughing out loud with her husband, and making food for people. She lives in Honolulu, Hawaii and dreams of taking her family on marvelous adventures across the globe.

In the meantime, she blogs about life and family at PracticalFamily.org, and encourages others to build practical skills for healthy communication, simple living, and discover their awesomeness. Read more of her posts on Instagram | Pinterest | Facebook | Twitter.

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