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Helping Your Pre Teen Manage Big Feelings

Is your pre-teen struggling with big feelings and out of control emotions? We have discovered some great ways to help manage this all these feelings around here. We are constantly changing plans. Some great ways to create stability in this crazy time can be found here.

frustrated little girl

If I could describe this season in two words it would be this: Plans Change. We no longer live in a world where we can count on our plans remaining the same with consistency. Rearranging trips, rescheduling social visits at the drop of a hat, even spending time with family looks different these days. 

When I say big, I mean BIG.

We had one of these changes again this weekend and my sweet daughter was having a very hard time with it. She was having some BIG feelings! I don’t know what it looks like in your house when big feelings are flying around, but over here it is loud and dramatic. 

Now if I’m honest this just bugs me. I want to say knock it off or get a grip or something along those very unhelpful lines. But here is the thing. That never helps, I mean never. Have you ever told your kids to “get a grip” and it had a favorable outcome? Not me. So we have had to get creative and figure out how in the world to manage our big feelings and the first thing it requires is me managing mine. 

sad teen girl

We are a family of feelers.

I have big feelings too. My kids come by their drama honestly. We are a family of loud, passionate, feelers and I love this about us. We sing loud, dance crazy, hug lots, talk often about how much we love each other. Feelings are a big part of who we are as a family. But as big as our positive feelings are, our negative feelings are sometimes matching in their intensity. 

I have got to set the example for my kids in asking the Lord for self-control or patience when I need it. My kids hear me speak my need often. I think this is important because it lets them see that need is ok. Mommy doesn’t have it all together. I still need help. So I will say out loud, “Lord, please give me the grace to handle this without frustration.” 

My frustration never helps.

If my first response was a frustrated one, I am super quick to apologize to my kiddos. They know I make mistakes and try very hard to make them right as soon as possible. We all have a goal to stay in the space of enjoying each other as often as we can. It is a rhythm in our family to take responsibility quickly and return to joy!

So back to my story. The kids were supposed to have an outdoor playtime with some friends on Saturday, but we found out we were exposed to the dreaded virus and had to stay away from people and make sure we weren’t sick. So my daughter went right into freak out mode. Wailing and the whole bit. 

I told you the feelings were big.

I swallowed my frustrated comments and went to work. The work of motherhood is so often trying to quickly assess what the sweet child in front of you needs. Sometimes they just need time, but this time I thought I would try one one of our other strategies first. 

That is asking this question. Instead of freak out mode what can we do to get into problem solving mode? I pose it as a question, because as she matures I want her to take more and more responsibility for her own emotional health. 

So she answers that she does indeed want to get into problem solving mode. Yahoo! That’s a win for us. So we do. Since things that were out of our control forced a change we decided to brainstorm things that we could control that would still make the day enjoyable, even though it was not our original planned fun. 

sad girl on couch

Solve the problem.

And she did it! She thought about how she could solve the problem she brainstormed and asked if she could do experimental baking in the kitchen. That was a yes for me and she ended up making an edible chocolate cake with no recipe. I was so impressed with her baking prowess and she was so proud!

I was so grateful that she made some good choices that led her to joy instead of choices that prolonged her sadness. 

Parenting victories should be celebrated! But it does not always come so easy. So on the days that the big big feelings are harder to turn around there are a few things we do that seem to help. 

Give them some space.

One thing that my girl always needs is a little bit of time to feel her feelings. I let her cry. She usually heads to her bed, buries her head in her covers and cries. So I give her space and time to do that. 

Even if it seems to me to be a ridiculous thing to be crying over it is not ridiculous to her. She is feeling real sadness and often needs to be given space to feel it. 

After I give her some space I usually go sit with her and pull her into my arms. I asked her before I wrote this what was the thing that we do that helps her the most and this is the one she pointed out as the most helpful. 

Affectionate touch always helps.

Mom and daughter

The hug indicates that I am on her team. Even if we still disagree. Even if she thinks I’m wrong or is upset with me. We still hug because we are always, always on the same team. 

I remind her of this often. Once she is settled a bit I often have her write out how she feels and what is the truth. So if she is feeling unloved she writes that and then the truth that she is loved by God and her family and her friends. Writing seems to calm my kids in a way that few other things do, so we do a lot of writing down truth in our family.

Here is a breakdown of the 5 ways we deal with big feelings:

Our top 5!

Control your own emotions: 

This has to happen. If I lose it the battle is lost y’all. But it is sometimes so very hard to be the one to remain calm. Breathe Deep. Pray. Have a plan for dealing with your own emotions quickly when these situations arise. Create healthy habits for yourself that you can rely on when things seem to be spiraling in your home.

Space and Time: 

So often our kids just need a little time to cool off or to feel their feelings. That is okay. Let them know that it is okay to be sad and cry and even to be angry. Give them some time. This may be where it ends. Sometimes my kiddos just need a good cry and they will come out on their own, give me a hug and go about their business. I love this because it demonstrates maturity on their part. It shows me and them that they are capable of working through some things on their own. 

This often comes up again at bedtime and we will process why they were feeling mad or upset and what they did to calm themselves down. I love hearing the ways they have internally processed different things or how they have prayed about it on their own. 

3 cheers

Write it out:

Seriously, this might be one of my all-time favorite parenting things we do. We write the truth. Write it down so your brain had to think it, your hands had to write it, your eyes had to see it. Sometimes this writing is framed as an opportunity, like journaling if we are just helping a kid work through some feelings. But we also will use it as a consequence of disrespect or other behavior issues and have found it to be a very helpful tool in varied parenting scenarios. 

We’re on the same team:

We both want peace in our home.

Say this on repeat. Show it on repeat. It is never you against your child. You are always on the same team and that is important for you both to be reminded of. We both want to work to get our relationship back on track as quickly as possible. 

We both want to learn and grow and care for each other well.

 We both want peace in our home. 

We both want for the child to grow up kind and responsible and compassionate and all that God has created them to be. 

We are on the same team!


This is always a tool in the tool belt. I mention it last because I think it can be dangerous to use too often. Used frequently it can keep our kids from learning how to process their emotions in a healthy way. So I would not make this your go-to approach. 

But sometimes, the issue is small, and the kiddos just need help getting their mind on something else. Go outside and shoot hoops with them for 5 minutes; sit down, draw together, or read another chapter of your read-aloud book. A couple of good minutes doing an activity with mom often is just the thing they needed even if they didn’t know it. 

dad and daughter

Remember your childhood

Remember what it was like being a kid? I try to remember myself at that age so I can put myself in their shoes. Sometimes it’s hard being a kid and you just need a good cry. Sometimes the world seems so unfair and you need to be reminded of the truth. Lord give us wisdom as parents to know what our kids need and to be willing to provide it. Amen!