It’s hard when your child’s not coping. Emotions have a powerful effect on how children behave. Inside our brains there is a small area called the amygdala (pronounced: “ah-mig-da-la”). This acts like an alarm system.
When we feel threatened, the amygdala activates the nervous system. Adrenalin and noradrenalin are released into the bloodstream, and our bodies go into fight-or-flight mode.
- Stay and face the threat
- Run away to safety
When some children feel overwhelmed by strong emotions, they can respond physically by being angry or having meltdowns. Others act out by pushing boundaries or engaging in risky behaviour. Some children appear to shut down, becoming withdrawn or depressed.
There are some stresses in your child’s life that you can reduce or remove completely. For example, you can help your child plan their revision timetable if they’re feeling overwhelmed by exams. You know the stress, while intense at the time, will soon be over. You can give practical advice to help them manage everything.
But there may be other stresses in your child’s life that you are unable to control:
- Change to family finances
- Family breakup
- Bullying and friendship issues
- Changing school
- Moving house
Rather than removing the stress and pressure, you can help your child recognise the powerful emotions they feel and teach them appropriate ways to manage them.
When your child’s not coping
When some children struggle to cope with emotions, their behaviour escalates. Talk to them when they’ve calmed down about what you’ve noticed, name the emotion, and help them understand why they might feel this way. You can explain how their behaviour made you feel.
Talk to their school about any support available, such as a designated person they can speak to when they are struggling to manage.
Strategies to help them cope
Knowing your child is struggling to manage their emotions explains why they are acting out, but that doesn’t mean you should accept the behaviour. Instead, help them find other, more appropriate ways to react when they feel overwhelmed.
If your child is feeling like they can’t cope, they may become tearful and easily discouraged. They can show physical signs of anxiety like sickness, a raised heart beat, or headaches.
Teaching your child ways to relax can help them cope. Breathing exercises, yoga, mindful activities, and relaxation techniques help them feel more in control.
If you’re worried about your child’s overall wellbeing, or it’s affecting their home or school life, it’s important to get further help.
If your child is feeling low, worthless, or isolates themselves from friends and family, it could be a sign they are depressed.
The Young Minds website has a detailed parents’ guide to depression with lots of helpful advice.