Helping children process emotions

So, what do you do when your precious boy sails down the kiddie super slide at the carnival and lands hard on his face!!!

Well, we ran ‘round and ‘round till we found an open gate. Scooping him up, we applied lots of compression therapy (hugs!) while the damage was assessed. And that was really good—just what he and the rest of us needed at that point.

Most adults don’t need to be told to comfort and assess the damage. That’s understood.

However, high EQ people also choose their words carefully. It’s the job of the adults in a child’s life to help him learn how to understand, contain, and process emotions.

To keep a young child from being overwhelmed, we use words for the feelings he experienced. We teach our children emotional intelligence skills by modeling them.

Proverbs 16:23 ICB shows this concept:

“A wise person’s mind tells him what to say. This helps him to teach others better.”


With that in mind, here are a few things NOT to say:

  • Oh, baby, I thought you were going to DIE!

While you do want to validate his fear, unloading your own terror on him will overwhelm and be too much.

  • You’re not hurt.

In this case, our little guy was hurt: skinned knees and a bruised face. Processing emotions with ChildrenTelling a child, “You’re not hurt” when he is, teaches him several things.

First, it teaches him that he has to choose to either believe his own senses or believe you. If he looks at his bloody knee and realizes he is hurt, then he also realizes you just lied to him.

If he chooses to ignore the physical evidence and chooses to agree that he’s not hurt, then he learns to live a lie, ignoring his own senses and looking to others to tell him how he feels. This sets him up for all sorts of trouble and abuse.

  • Big boys/girls don’t cry.

Adults who are uncomfortable with emotions, sometimes tell their child to not cry—because the adult can’t handle it. Or the adult might try distraction, to cheer them up when the child really needs to talk about their fear or sadness.

No one likes to see a child cry, but children who are not allowed to feel their feelings appropriately will not learn how to process them. They can end up relying on distracting behaviors (think addictions!) rather than processing naturally.

Better things to say (in random order):

  • I have you now. Let me hold you while Daddy looks you over…to see where it hurts.

This helps them know they’re in a different stage of the event. This part of the accident is over and the next step is to look for injuries.

  • Wow, you went really fast! I was scared because you went so fast…were you scared?

This validates their fear, helps them name their feeling, and gives them an opportunity to express it, then process it with you. I know my first impulse is to keep babbling because of the rush of adrenaline but it’s important to let them answer the questions you’re asking! 

  • It looked like you were almost flying. Was that exciting and scary, too? How did you feel? You were really brave. 

Giving the child a chance to talk about how something can be both exciting and scary allows them to learn that feelings are complicated—that it’s normal to have mixed emotions.

  • I see you’ve skinned both knees and hit your face. I’m so sorry; that must hurt. Is there any other place that hurts?

Again, this validates he’s been injured and it hurts. Let him tell you about it.

  • I’m sad you got hurt. I’m disappointed too; it was just the 2nd ride you were on and I wanted you to have fun.

These are emotions that can come up later. Example: Once he’d been to the nurse’s station and cleared.

Name it to tame it is more than a catchy phrase. It normalizes events. This was not the first fall my grandson has had—just one of the scariest.


Above all, keep it honest and let the child talk—

so he can grow in EQ.

So, he can become more like Jesus.