Little People, Big Feelings by Gen Muir OUT NOW

How can I help my BIG feeling child build resilience?

Uncategorized Mar 11, 2024

My son who is no longer a toddler started year 7 this year.

A big change with lots to adjust to. Around week three one Friday afternoon out of nowhere my happy go lucky, cruisy, resilient 12-year-old burst into tears over the smallest thing.

The likes of which I hadn’t seen since he was a toddler… and he wasn’t able to just pull it together despite the fact the timing wasn’t ideal.

I was a little surprised at first, and I remembered this same thing happening when my eldest started year 7. In times of change we can often see kids pushed to their emotional limits.

I knew what to do: to let him cry and let him know that adjusting to high school is huge, and feeling exhausted and emotional makes sense.  

 Later I shared with him that I bet lots of kids were feeling the same about now and that I too remember the struggle as I adjusted to year 7.

This is all true, I do remember how tiring year 7 was and I also know from experience of raising my four boys that feelings are much better out than in.

  • I know that we need to name it to tame it.
  • That once his emotions are named he feels seen and heard.
  • This helps him process them – and builds resilience.  

 But it was a LOT harder to see and believe this this when he was a toddler.

When he could cry over the drop of a hat, or more realistically the fall of a LEGO tower, or because one of the 37 “Octonauts” he liked to sleep with, and their associated “Gup” vehicles fell out of his bed or because he couldn’t find ‘Batman’s cape”

Those days were longer, and it was harder to see though the non-stop emotions to know that allowing him to feel his feelings, and come to us with them, would pay off.

There is no doubt about it, parenting small (and bigger) humans is all about emotions.  

 From the minute your newborn is placed on your chest it’s a steep learning curve as we adjust to parenting. Emotions are high as we adjust, and our baby does too.  We navigate crying, long nights, and the first months can feel like a blur.

 Then, just as the dust settles and things feel like there is a bit of a rhythm: Your child becomes a toddler. Suddenly it can feel like just by peeling a banana the wrong way you’ve ruined your toddler’s day.

So firstly, why the big feelings?

Put simply, children’s brains are still developing and the pre-frontal cortex that helps them be reasonable, rational and regulated is not fully developed until well into your child’s mid 20’s. (Yep, you heard right!) While a toddler may be developing many new skills and increasingly becoming more independent, their ability to manage all their big feelings is a long way off being fully developed.

Tantrums and meltdowns are normal and healthy. Tantrums and meltdowns are not a choice our children make, but a state of dysregulation that is beyond the control of our kids.

One of the big goals you may have for your child is that they will one day be resilient when it comes to disappointments and setbacks. Ironically the building of resilience in a child can look very, very ‘un-resilient’. The way the human brain builds resilience is through practice. It can’t be taught; it needs to be experienced.

What about resilience?

When your child begins to express their big feelings, the experience for you can be overwhelming, and can have parents wondering ‘is this normal?’ and “what can I do to help my child with these big feelings?’ After all, one of our greatest hopes is that our child will one day be resilient in the face of adversity – so their lack of control around the banana can be a little worrying.

Let’s get straight to the good news – If your child is having lots of big feelings, you are doing something VERY right:

Not only are these big feelings normal, but they are also essential for development.

And the kicker is this: your child feels safe within your relationship to show these feelings to you. This is an incredible gift to give a child who can rest knowing you will be there when they are happy AND when they are sad, or jealous, or mad.

The process of feeling big emotions on repeat gives the brain a chance to practice managing emotions and this builds resilience over time. This means that when your child is having lots of meltdowns, they are getting lots of practice at building resilience.

So how can we best support our kids with big feelings?

 How we go in these moments, is a lot more about us than our child.

 As it turns out, the biggest job we have in these moments when our child is learning to express their big feelings – is to learn to manage the feelings in us that come up for us and try not to join our child IN the meltdown. This is no easy task.

 Learning to spot the way these feelings make us feel and reflect upon this is one of the biggest steps forward we can make towards getting more comfortable when our kids have big feelings. Right from the moment our newborn cries our instinct is the stop it, fix it or make it better… and if we can’t easily do this we feel like we are failing.

 But the truth is, right from birth our baby knows more about letting out emotions than we do. They are crying to communicate, or to let it out, and our toddlers are no different. Our job is sometimes simply to be there.

It turns out that while our instinct might be to fight the feelings, to distract, to make it better, to ignore them, or help our child to move on…. The fastest way though these moments is to simply accept them.

 So, in fact a toddler who is expressing lots and lots of big emotions, with the support of a loving caregiver is practicing how to regulate every single time they lose it! Every time the emotions fire up, and they can let the feelings out, they get to experience and learn the skills and process of regulating emotion though the co-regulation process.

This means that children don’t have the capacity to soothe and feel settled from within and need to seek this externally though behaviour.  A child learns to regulate though lots of practice with a loving caregiver who models the ability to regulate for the child over and over via a safe emotional connection.

The good news is:

We only need to do this some of the time to make a real difference for our kids. This listening, empathy and connection goes a long way towards creating a secure relationship that our child knows they can lean into.

If we can sit in feelings around 30% of the time - this not only increases cooperation and listening from your child in the short term, but it does also something much bigger.

 It creates a secure attachment, and it sets up a relationship where longer term your child knows they can come to you with their feelings at three, at 12 as they adjust to year 7, and hopefully at 16 when he thinks:

“I’m out of my depth here, and I know exactly who to call....”

I want that call to be me.

If you do as well, the place to start is with your toddler and their big, messy, seemingly non-stop emotions.

Know that if you are in eye of a big feeling storm right now, you are exactly where you need to be.



Connected Parenting founder Gen Muir is a parent educator, obstetric social worker, author, speaker and mum of four boys. She is passionate about helping families to connect and thrive amid the many challenges of modern parenting.

Gen has a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) from UNSW and a Graduate Diploma in Grief and Bereavement Counselling. She is also a qualified Circle of Security and Tuning into Kids facilitator. Gen has appeared on Sunrise, The Morning Show, Studio 10, 2Day FM and ABC, and is a spokesperson for LEGO Duplo. 


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