What To Do When Your Child Has a Tough Day - Baby Chick
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What To Do When Your Child Has a Tough Day

Everyone has a tough day sometimes, including children. Here are some ways to help your child cope when they have had a tough day.

Updated March 29, 2024

by Cheyenne Bell

Medically reviewed by Rachel Tomlinson

Registered Psychologist

Being a kid can be challenging. The whole world is brand new, and you are constantly learning, whether encountering a unique situation, developing new social skills, or figuring out the rules for the people and things in your environment. Growing in strength and intelligence and trying to fit in with the world around you takes a lot of energy. And, many times, the lessons you finally learn are because you had to be corrected or made a mistake. Parents often forget what a confusing and exhausting job it is to be a kid.

Like adults, when children have a tough day, it can affect everyone around them. Children often respond to stress with tantrums, moodiness, anger, or sadness. If you think about it, we adults respond the same way. However, as adults, most of us have developed techniques to calm ourselves after a bad day. Kids don’t have the self-awareness or maturity to use those coping techniques yet.1 Parents need to help them develop ways to calm down and process their emotions.

How To Help Your Child When They Have a Tough Day

Here are some ways you can help your kids navigate those tough days.

1. Be There for Them

Every child needs a safe place to land. They need to know without a shadow of a doubt they have someone to turn to for comfort. It is your job to be that person. This can be referred to as secure attachment, where a child is confident in the knowledge that not only will their parent be present for them and engaged, but that they can seek comfort and safety from them.2 Securely attached children are more empathic, less disruptive, less aggressive, and more mature, which tells us how important it is to be a safe landing space for our little ones and their big feelings.

Whether they need a big hug or a bit of a cry before they can talk to you about their day, let them know that’s okay. Sometimes, all it takes is a mom or dad’s comforting presence to help a child calm down. Being there for them is the first step in helping them to get through anything.

2. Tell Them It’s Okay To Have a Tough Day

Everyone has bad days. We all suffer at one point or another from a terrible day. Whether it’s from our own mistakes or attitudes or someone else’s decisions, everyone has a rough go of it. And it’s okay. Remind your child that tough days will happen and how we respond to tough times makes a difference. Assure them that even mom and dad have bad days sometimes. They are not alone, and you will help them work through it.

3. Allow Them To Vent About Their Day

Sometimes, all we need is someone we can tell our story to. We need someone to witness our frustration and let us know it’s normal to feel like we do. Let your child share what is bothering them if they want to. Did they get bullied at school? Did they hurt someone’s feelings? Are they feeling left out or pressured? Did they have to share when they didn’t want to? Did they fail an important test? Whatever has them feeling down, encourage them to talk about it with you so you can process it together.

4. Empathize With How They’re Feeling

Children can have big emotions about things adults see as insignificant. And in the grand scheme of things, perhaps their struggle is silly or unimportant . . . to us. To them, however, it is a huge deal. And we must be aware and empathetic to how they’re feeling, regardless of how we view it. Let your child tell you how they feel, then explain that you understand their feelings. Children learn by witnessing or experiencing things firsthand, so when you model how to name and manage their feelings, they can learn coping strategies and develop the skills to become empathic.4

For example, my son came to me the other day and said he was sad because his siblings left him out. I asked him to explain the situation. He said he wanted to play a particular game, but his siblings wanted to play another one. So, they played it without him. I tried to be empathetic by responding, “I understand you feel left out. It’s frustrating when you want to play something no one else wants to play. That must make you feel sad.” He agreed. I then offered a solution.

“I know you want to play this certain game, but if they don’t want to play that right now, you can’t force them to do it. How about you let them play what they’re playing for 10 minutes? If you want to join them in their game, you should! But if you don’t, let’s find something else you like to do for that 10 minutes. Then we can ask them if they want to play your game next. Can we try that?” My son felt validated by my understanding of his frustration. And we came up with a solution he could live with. For us, this strategy worked that day!

5. If They Made a Mistake, Talk Through It

Often, kids can be hard on themselves for making a mistake. If they get in trouble or feel embarrassed for messing up, it can affect their mood and self-esteem for the rest of the day, if not longer. It’s our job as parents to help them understand that making mistakes is expected and how we learn to do better. Encourage your child to talk about their mistake and how it makes them feel. Then, motivate them to correct it. Do they need to apologize? Is there someone they need to forgive? Should they do something differently next time? Talk it out. Then, tell them how proud you are of them for admitting their mistake and thinking of ways to learn from it!

6. Help Them Strategize for Future Bad Days

The sooner we learn to cope with bad days, the better it will be for all of us! When your child has had a tough day, it’s important to remind them that bad days will happen. But our kids also need to learn how to problem solve. You can do this by helping them strategize for future bad days so those situations won’t be so hard to handle.5

Talk with your child about techniques to help them calm down and get through the day. Do they need to be alone for a few minutes? Do they need to do an activity to take their mind off things (reading, coloring, going for a walk)? Maybe they need to talk to mom or their teacher privately. Whatever they think they might need to get through a bad day, help them make a plan for coping.

7. Remind Them They Are Loved

Just as they need to know you are there for them, they also need to know they are loved.6 No matter what. Kids need to know they will not lose your love by having a tough day. After you sit down and walk through these steps with them, don’t forget to give them a nice, long hug and tell them you love them. Always. Without condition.

Using these steps to help your child navigate their tough days will help them develop the skills they need to cope with life’s challenges. While being a kid is hard, becoming an adult is harder. Knowing how to manage and process the emotions of a tough day will serve them well as they grow.

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Cheyenne is a former lawyer turned writer, editor, and work-from-home mom living in San Marcos, Texas, with her daughter, Aislin, and son, Hawkins. She and her kids moved to the… Read more

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