What to do when a kid has a fit

Feeling Magnets - What to do when a kid has a fit


I recently witnessed a little girl, about 7 years old, go through two transformations within about twenty minutes. When I first saw her she was calm, had a stern look on her face and might have been a little shy. Less than a minute later, out of the blue, she was screaming, yelling, and crying uncontrollably. She ran to her mother, seeking comfort and her mother tried with all her motherly might to console her and reason with her. It seemed to no avail.

The second transformation took place when the mother started to suggest words to describe how her daughter might be feeling. At first her daughter didn’t seem very receptive, but little by little she began to nod or shake her head for each feeling that her mother suggested. As the girl’s nods and shakes revealed that she was feeling furious, annoyed, terrified and so on, she gradually became calmer. After a while she wanted her mom to stop suggesting words and she wanted to tell her how she was feeling herself.

As I witnessed this I was reminded of three really important things we can do when children, or adults for that matter, are experiencing very strong and seemingly uncontrollable emotions.

  1. Help them to find words to describe or name what they are feeling. This makes what they are experiencing more manageable and decreases the power of the feelings.
  2. Accept whatever they are feeling and reassure them that it’s OK to be feeling that way. In order for them to navigate through what they are feeling, they need to accept the emotion and they might sometimes require support and guidance to do this.
  3. Remind them that all feelings are important and are there for a good reason. Although we might prefer some feelings over others, it’s important not to say that some feelings are good and others are bad. They are all good. They are just not all so comfortable. 

These three steps might sound too simple to really be effective, but it’s harder than it might sound to respond in this way. We generally have reflexes to say things like “Stop this!”, “There’s no need to be scared”, “It’s not good to be angry!” Saying such things has quite the opposite effect. In reality you will probably agree that it’s OK to feel angry. What we often don’t agree with is the behavior that follows, but these are two separate things. Try it out and tell us your experiences. It’s powerful beyond what we can imagine.

To help children (and parents help their children) to work through and understand emotions, there are also great tools like the My Feelings Box. It can serve as a prompt for kids to name their emotions and then to accept and understand them as well as to realize that they have a choice about how they act upon their feelings.


Are you curious to learn more about emotions and how we can navigate through them and help our children navigate through them? Sign up to the free Emotion Course here:

1 Response

Kyra Xavia
Kyra Xavia

February 22, 2016

A succinct, helpful and well written article. Thank you!

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