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Regulating Emotion Driven Children
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Today's question says, "When raising emotional kids, how do you teach your children how to not only recognize their emotions, but practically manage them in a biblical way, upholding the biblical virtue of self-control?"
Note: The following is an auto-transcript of the podcast recording.
Hello friends, and welcome to another episode of the Foundation Worldview Podcast where we seek to answer your questions so that you can equip the children God has placed in your care to carefully evaluate every idea they encounter and understand the truth of the biblical worldview. I'm your host, Elizabeth Urbanowicz, and I'm thrilled you've joined me for another episode today. Our question today says, "when raising emotional kids, how do you teach your children how to not only recognize their emotions but practically manage them in a biblical way, upholding the biblical virtue of self-control?" Such a good question, and I think so many people wonder this because we know our children, especially our little ones, have such big emotions. So we're going to dive down deep into that question today.
But before we do, if you have a question that you would like answered on a future Foundation Worldview podcast, if you go to FoundationWorldview.com/podcast, you can submit your question and we'd be happy to consider it as one of the questions we take in our podcast. Also, if you found this content beneficial, we ask that you would consider liking subscribing, writing a review, and sharing this content with those in your sphere of influence so that we can continue equipping as many adults as possible to disciple the children God has placed in their care.
Now, as we think through how we work with more emotion driven children, I think the first thing that I just want to make clear is the advice that I'm going to be giving today is for children who don't have any physical or other big emotional issues that might really be hindering the way that they process emotions. So I just want to be really clear about that. If you have a child that is particularly emotionally driven, you may want to just check out if there are other factors influencing these high emotions because we know that every part of who we are as a human impacts the way we think, impacts the way we feel, impacts the way that we live.
Just thinking an ex of an example of a friend of mine who has a child who is very emotionally driven, and as you know, the child was growing, she just knew that this was a little bit more intense than what she was experiencing with her other children. So she actually went to the doctor and the doctor asked some questions and they were eventually able to figure out that her child has an autoimmune disease where the child's immune system is basically attacking his brain and making emotion control very difficult. So that doesn't mean that now she lets her child's emotions run wild, but it does mean that there are some different things that she has to try. There's some different medical treatments that they have to go through because her son has a condition that's impeding the way that he's viewing things and even his ability to regulate his emotions. Also with different things, if a child has gone through trauma or if a child is adopted and has gone through that trauma of detaching from biological parents and latching onto new parents, there might just be different issues that you might need to seek out different medical or psychological professional help for this.
So just want to make that clear as everyone is listening to this advice that they just to make sure that the advice that I'm offering is for children who have not been through trauma, who don't have any physical problems that is actually impacting the way their brain regulates their emotions. So just wanted to make that clear at upfront. Now, the first thing that I think we need to also be clear on is when we're teaching emotion driven children to regulate their emotions, training them to manage emotions in the heat of the moment rarely works.
Because when our emotions are raging high, we as humans really cannot think logically. The emotional portion of or the portion of our brain that regulates our emotion is the portion that is taking over at the moment. So if we want to teach our children to be self controlled, to really evaluate their emotions while they're having a temper tantrum, while they're very angry about something, while they're feeling extremely sad about something, that is not the moment in which we're going to do the training. That's the moment in which we need to pray for wisdom that God would give us wisdom in how to help them regulate this emotion and how we need to respond to this well.
Now the first thing that I would say we need to do when we're not in the heat of an emotion is help kids identify different emotions. We can even play a game. Show me the kind of face you make when you're happy. Show me the kind of face you make when you're sad. Show me the kind of face you make when you're angry and just giving them different vocabulary, what it means to feel nervous about something, what it means to feel frustrated about something, what it means to feel sad about something so that they can recognize those emotions. And I know there's different charts that different companies sell, like with pictures that represent different emotions. So you can buy one of those or you can have your child draw different kind of faces for different emotions that they feel if you have an older child, you can have them write out some words that describe a certain feeling, but just making sure that they can identify the feeling because that's a huge part of helping them learn to regulate and control their emotions, is to even identify what am I feeling?
Because a lot of times feelings wash over us so quickly and we don't even know what is it that we're feeling and why is it that we're feeling this way? So when our children are not in the heat of an emotion, to actually have them identify what are these different emotions that people feel? When do you feel them? What does it feel like to you? What are some of the reasons why you feel that? And then the next thing that we need to do is we need to teach them a biblical way of processing those emotions. It's not like we don't want to take the example of Frozen and just "let it go," okay? Because that's not biblical. Because we know there's so many things that we feel on the inside that if we just let them go, we would be wildly sinning against those in our lives.
But we also don't want to take the opposite extreme and just stuff them because that's not healthy either. Because if we're just stuffing our emotions, we can only hold them down for so long. It's kind of like a beach ball trying to hold a beach ball underwater. We can only hold it down for so long, before it eventually just pops back up. So we can't just let it go wildly and we can't stuff it either. But the biblical solution is pouring our hearts out before the Lord. In Psalm 62, it says, pour out your heart before him at all times, O peoples that we are to actually cry out to the Lord with what we're feeling. We're supposed to take our emotions to him. And so a great thing to do with our children is to have them to read through the Psalms with them and talk through, "okay, let's read through this psalm. What is this psalm is feeling in here? What are his feelings that he's pouring out before the Lord?" Because when we read through the Psalms just straight through, sometimes it's shocking how honest the psalmist is with God about his feelings. And there's different men that have written different Psalms. Most of them are written by David, but we have also other ones written by the Sons of Cora and by Moses and other individuals. And they're very honest with God about how they're feeling, but they don't just fling their emotions out and then sit there with arms crossed stewing over the emotions. They fully pour out their hearts before the Lord, and then they in turn speak to their hearts. They speak to their own hearts what they know to be true about God.
And so this is something that you can practice with your little ones. "When you're feeling sad, let's talk to God about what are you feeling sad about? What do you feel on the inside? What are you thinking right now?" And then just having one or two short verses that after they've poured out their heart before the Lord, that they can just say that verse to remind themselves of the truth. And especially if you're working with kids seven on younger, it can be really helpful to attach something physical to this because when kids are seven on younger their bodies, they don't have a whole lot of fine motor control yet sometimes they might even struggle a little bit with gross motor control. And so they need to have their bodies involved in a lot of things. So if you have a child that is very physical, you can have a certain stuffed animal or you can have a bunch of different stuffed animals. This is the stuffed animal you're going to go and you're going to squeeze when you're feeling angry, and this is the stuffed animal you're going to go and you're going to hug when you're feeling sad and might just have one stuffed animal that they can go and hold while they're praying.
If you have a child that's particularly artistic, you can have a little drawing section in their room that they can go to and they can use their crayons or their colored pencils or their markers to draw what they're feeling before God. If you have a child that's very verbal, you can have someplace where they can go and write down their words of what they're thinking and what they're feeling and just attaching something physical so that when they are experiencing these strong emotions, they can go and they can do something with them that aligns with the biblical model. And just as a reminder, we don't want to just let it go. We don't want to stuff it, but we want to pour out our hearts before the Lord. And then we can also tell our children that God has given us the body of Christ, and particularly in your home, God has given you as the parent or grandparent or whatever your relationship is with this child, to be able to come to you and to explain to you what he or she is feeling.
And now this can be difficult in the moment because when our children have very high emotions, it's important for us to remain very calm. But I have some friends, some dear friends who just do such a good job of this. You just do such a good job of remaining calm when their children are not calm. My sister-in-law also does a really great job with this, with all of her kids. And I know that these things, it's not like they just come natural to these friends, but they've really practiced this and they've prayed about it because it's really important that we don't just respond to our children, to our children's high emotions with high emotions. Now we're sinners. There's going to be times when we do that we're going to mess up. Our child's going to be angry and going to do something, and we're going to blow our top, or we're going to say something that we shouldn't have said.
And in that moment, after that, what we need to do is we need to model the biblical grace of repentance, of going to our child and saying, remember when you were angry and you shouted at mommy or whatever the relationship is, that wasn't right of you, but what did mommy do? Mommy shouted back at you and I sinned against you. I wasn't treating you like you were an image bearer of God. I'm really sorry. Will you forgive me for shouting at you? Okay. And that's really valuable too, that our children see us model humility and repentance. Now, after we've taught our children this biblical model of pouring out our hearts before the Lord and being honest with the trusted brother or sister in Christ about how we're feeling and what we're experiencing, the next thing we need to train our kids to do is to ask themselves, is this emotion pointing me towards the truth or away from it?
Now, every emotion really is usually grounded in truth in that there's something that happened that caused us to react a certain way. But then when we're experiencing that emotion, that emotion can either point us towards the truth of the matter or it can point us away from the truth. And this is something we focus on a lot in the first five lessons of Foundation Early Childhood Worldview Curriculum, the whole unit, first unit, is on truth. And we teach kids these truths. That's that. Sometimes emotions point us towards truth. Sometimes they point us away from it. And the way we say that in the curriculum is sometimes feelings trick us. Sometimes feelings trick us. And that's a great thing that we can teach our little ones.
And again, in the heat of the moment, in the heat of the moment, if they're very angry or if they're very sad, it's not usually the time to ask, is this emotion pointing you towards truth or away from truth? Usually the best thing to do is to remove them from the situation, whether that's a timeout or whether that's just a few minutes in their room or whether they're having a meltdown in the middle of the grocery store and we say, okay, we need to leave the cart here. You can't handle this right now. We're going to go back in the car, but we need to usually remove them from the situation. Give them a little bit of time to cool down. And then when we're debriefing with them to ask them this question, did that feeling point you towards the truth? Or did it point you away from the truth? And how do you know that? So we can actually give them some tools to use to think through, okay, this emotion, is this emotion that I should follow, or is this an emotion that I really need to speak truth over and work on changing the way that I'm feeling?
This is something that we really need to model in our own lives. And I mean, it's a difficult thing. It's a difficult thing to practice self-control and to handle our emotions in a healthy way, especially if when we were growing up, this was not modeled for us. If it was modeled for us, you know what a huge blessing. But if it wasn't, we might need a lot of retraining in our own heart and our own mind. And so really to ask the Lord, to give us wisdom, ask the Lord to change us, to help us learn how to pour out our hearts before him and then to speak truth over our hearts. This is something we need to make sure that we're modeling for our children. And then as I mentioned before, we need to make sure that we take time intentionally to debrief after intense emotions.
And now you might feel like depending on all the things that are going on in your life right now and the things you have on your plate, you might feel like, "oh my goodness, I don't have time to debrief all of these things." But the question I would ask you is, if you feel like you don't have time, what is this going to cost your child in the long run? If you don't make time to debrief and to help them see the truth of their feelings? What's it going to cost him or what's it going to cost her in the long run that sometimes we need to make the tough decision of saying, "you know what? We have too many things going on in our life right now. You know what? I don't think in this season our kids can be involved in any sports." Or might even say, "you know what? Actually being part of a midweek program, structured program at church or at this ministry, can't do that right now. Because what we need to do is we really need to focus on family discipleship, on discipling these children that God has placed in our care because there's so many good things in our culture that the enemy can use to squeeze out the best thing."
And God has called us to raise up disciples. When Jesus left, when Jesus ascended into heaven, he gave us the command to go and to preach the gospel to all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. And for those of us who are working with kids, that is our primary ministry field, these children that God has placed within our sphere of influence, and we need to make sure that we have the time to disciple them well.
Final two things that I want to leave us with is make sure that we have developmentally appropriate expectations. We can't expect that a three year old is going to know how to regulate all of his or her emotions after we train him or her two or three times. That's just not developmentally appropriate. A 12 year old, a 16 year old, we can have higher expectations for them, but we need to make sure that our expectations are developmentally appropriate. We need to also make sure that our children know that our love for them is not dependent on how well they do in this area of regulating their emotions or in any other area, because our job with these children that God has placed in our care is to reflect the heart of God to them. And God does not love us based on any of our own merits.
It's nothing in us that makes God love us. God loves us because God is love, and the love that we show to our children is not based on them or their merit. It's not based on anything that they've done or haven't done. It should be based on who we are and the fact that we have been reconciled to God, we have been redeemed by Jesus, and we are now called to reflect hin the children that He's placed in our care. That doesn't mean that we don't punish our children. No, God disciplines his children. The New Testament is clear that if we're not facing the discipline of God, it means we're illegitimate children, that God disciplines and chases those he loves. So we do still need to implement consequences when our children do things that are wrong, but we need to make sure that they always know that whether they regulate their emotions well or whether they struggle with this their whole lives, we love them, not based on their own merit, but because of who God is.
Final thing I would encourage you to do is to pray. Pray for wisdom. Pray that God would be at work in this child or these children that he has placed in your care, because we know that parenting, that raising children, it's not a sprint, it's a marathon. And God might not change their hearts today or tomorrow, or next year or even the next decade, but we know that God hears our prayers and we can trust that he will answer them in his time.
Well, that's a wrap for today's episode. As always, as we leave this time together, my prayer for you is that God would richly bless you as you continue to faithfully disciple the children He's placed in your care. I'll see you next time.
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