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Understanding why kids have trouble managing emotions

By Gail Belsky

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It’s not unusual for preschoolers to burst into tears when they “ruin” their drawing. Most 10-year-olds wouldn’t do that, though. They typically have more ability to manage their emotions. 

But some kids struggle with managing emotions even as they get older. They might still have outbursts or get overly upset when something goes wrong. Or slip into a bad mood that goes on and on.

These challenges can sometimes be a matter of maturity. Stress and anxiety can also play a role. But a common cause is trouble with self-control

Kids who have a hard time managing emotions don’t only struggle with negative ones. They can get caught up in feelings of joy or anticipation, too. Some get overexcited about social activities or other events.

Dive deeper

What trouble managing emotions looks like

It’s often clear when kids have a hard time managing emotions. They cry or have tantrums or even get aggressive. But some signs are less obvious. For example, kids might:

  • Be quick to get frustrated and give up

  • Worry too much or too long over minor things

  • Often feel hurt, misunderstood, or like a victim

  • Have trouble letting go of things that are upsetting

Get tips for talking with kids about emotional issues .

Why it happens

Kids have a hard time with emotions for different reasons. These include stress and mental health issues like anxiety and depression. Kids who experience trauma may also struggle.

It’s very common for kids with ADHD to have trouble managing emotions. ADHD is a problem with executive function, a group of mental skills that includes self-control.   

Many kids with ADHD get better at managing emotions as they develop. But ADHD is a lifelong condition, and some continue to have trouble with it into their teen and young adult years.

Learn more about ADHD and trouble managing emotions .

Next steps

There are many ways to help kids who have trouble managing emotions. A good first step is for families and teachers to connect and share information about what they’re seeing. Parents and caregivers should also talk with their child’s doctor.

For parents and caregivers: Learn how to look for patterns in behavior that you can share with teachers and medical professionals.

For educators: Get tips for having difficult conversations with families .

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  • Text Message
  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom