It’s not unusual for preschoolers to burst into tears when they “ruin” their drawings. You wouldn’t expect a 10-year-old to do that, though. By that age, most kids have more ability to manage their emotions.
But some kids struggle with handling emotions even as they get older. Whether it’s fear, frustration, sadness, or disappointment, they have trouble keeping their emotions under control. They may cry often, yell and throw things, or say hurtful things.
If your child has difficulty with emotions, you may wonder why. Is it just taking longer for your child to develop coping skills? Or is something else going on?
Learn more about trouble managing emotions, and what can help your child.
Signs of Trouble Managing Emotions
When kids struggle with emotions, the signs are often clear. They cry, have tantrums, or even get aggressive. But there are other signs that are less obvious. Here are some examples:
Is quick to get frustrated and give up
Worries too much or too long over minor things
Often feels hurt, misunderstood, or like a victim
Can’t let go of things that are upsetting
Is moody or irritable
Kids don’t only struggle with negative emotions. They can get caught up in feelings of joy or anticipation, too. Some get overexcited. Others talk nonstop about the amazing goal they scored or an upcoming birthday party. Even if emotions are positive, that doesn’t mean they’re under control.
What Causes Trouble Managing Emotions
There are many reasons kids struggle with emotions. Some kids just feel things deeply—good and bad—and need help learning to handle those feelings.
Others may be going through a rough patch. Maybe they’re being bullied or having a tough time with friends. Big changes in the world and at home are a factor, too—things like a move, a new sibling, divorce, or the loss of a loved one.
Anxiety can also impact how kids cope. Kids who are worried or feeling stress may have trouble keeping their emotions from spilling out. Sometimes anxiety is temporary. But if kids are anxious for a long period of time, it can be a sign of a more serious anxiety problem.
Some kids get overwhelmed by strong feelings and have difficulty calming themselves. Others have trouble expressing their emotions in words. They may not have the language skills or the words to talk about emotions.
Kids who struggle with focus may have a hard time managing emotions, too. Trouble focusing can be a sign of ADHD and might not seem related to emotions. But struggling with emotional control and self-control in general are actually common in kids with ADHD.
No matter what’s causing the challenges, you can help your child get better at managing emotions.
The more you understand about what’s happening with your child, the more you can help. A good place to start is taking notes on what you’re seeing at home. Look for patterns. When does your child struggle? How does your child react?
Talk to someone about what you’re seeing, too. Your child’s teacher or health care provider can be good resources. They may have suggestions for how to help.
Even if you don’t yet know what’s causing your child’s trouble managing emotions, you can still work on it at home with your child. Help your child build an emotional vocabulary: Use movies, TV shows, and books to talk about the feelings of other people.
Keep in mind that trouble with emotions can be hard on your child’s self-esteem. It can be very noticeable, and as a result your child might feel judged. Give praise if you notice your child taking a deep breath or trying to cope in another way. Those little nudges can motivate your child to keep trying.