To respond in caring ways to the emotions of others, children first need to be able to cope with their own feelings. Research by Nancy Eisenberg and her colleagues at Arizona State University shows that young children who become overwhelmed by their own feelings when they see someone in distress are less likely to try to help other people. It seems like their own upset crowds out their compassion.
When we comfort our children and teach them to comfort themselves, we help them develop enough “emotional space” to care about others.Talk about feelings. Talking about how your child is feeling makes those feelings seem more understandable and more manageable. Saying things like “You’re feeling frustrated because we have to wait” or “You’re sad that your toy broke” helps your child learn to put their feelings into words.
Teach calming strategies. Encourage your child to use simple calming strategies like taking a deep breath, relaxing the body, or cuddling something soft. Practice these when your child is not upset. Having a plan of what to do helps kids learn to soothe themselves. Calming strategies only work early on, when feelings are small. If your child is already emotionally flooded in a full-blown tantrum, you just have to wait it out.