The World Is Hard For Kids With Big Feelings

by Sa'iyda Shabazz
Originally Published: 

Emotions are funny things. You can never truly know how they’re going to reveal themselves until it’s happening. Sometimes a greeting card commercial will make you cry. And sometimes getting caught at a red light will make you so angry, you’re suddenly seething with rage.

For most people, those are extreme reactions to regular occurrences. But for people with big emotions, that’s normal. And because most of us view them as extreme for typical life events, we don’t know how to handle or respond to them. The world is harsh for people with big emotions. Especially young kids.

As the mother of a little boy who has some seriously big feelings, it has been a learning experience. Because when you live in a world that tends to frown upon people with big emotions, you feel like you’ve been thrown into a pool at the deep end. And when your kiddo with big emotions is a boy? Oh buddy, you’re really in for a whole new world. The world often doesn’t respond kindly to boys who express their big feelings.

At first I thought my son’s tantrums were just him being a typical toddler. It took some time, but I slowly figured that this was more than that. When he is angry or frustrated, his emotions make it hard (impossible) for him to react calmly. Once I realized that he simply couldn’t help how strongly he feels anger and frustration, I knew that I was going to have to handle him and his big emotions differently.

But it isn’t just anger that causes an extreme reaction. He feels things so deeply in his little heart that every emotion is heightened. The first time we watched Boss Baby, he openly sobbed when the Boss Baby left the Templetons. I had to bring him into my lap and hold him as he cried.

Having a son with big emotions isn’t easy. You’re constantly fighting against the societal expectations for what a boy is supposed to act like. He’s at the age where some people would begin telling him that boys have to “be tough” and not cry when he’s upset. But he can’t help crying. Because that’s honestly the only way he feels better.

That doesn’t mean it makes it any easier, let me tell you. Some days even though I never try to tamp down his feelings, I wish there was another (quieter) way for him to handle them. Sometimes the only thing I can do is try to remain calm while he tells me that he hates me because I say it’s time for bed. Or talk him down when he’s frustrated because he can’t put together a puzzle. When he cries, all I can do is wait it out and be there with open arms when he stops.

There is no talking him down, or distracting him out of it. He has to feel the feelings before he moves on.

After five years of raising him, I am well versed in how to handle him and his big emotions. But I can’t go around with him explaining to others that he means well, but he can’t help himself. Socialization with his peers has always been a challenge because of this. He often has trouble expressing himself because when he gets wound up, it just becomes too hard. His happiness makes him over excited and when he’s angry, he becomes unbearable because he can’t simply move on.

When kids don’t want to play with him on the playground, he will run to me with tears in his eyes. Some people would tell him that something so trivial isn’t worth crying over, and there’s plenty of other friends out there, but I know he can’t help himself. So I just rub his back and tell him that it’s okay to cry. I always worry that other kids won’t know what to do with him and ostracize him because he displays his feelings in unique ways. It’s easy to write him off as a crybaby, or say he has a bad temper. But it’s not that simple. He just can’t bottle up his feelings, and sometimes he can’t express them in a way that is more palatable to people.

He’s a little kid, and he is still learning coping mechanisms. He’s not an adult, and he can’t be held to adult standards. (And we all know adults have a hard time controlling their emotions too, so grace and understanding go a long way here.)

On the flip side, his big emotions translate to big love. I have never been around a little boy with as much love as my son. When he hugs me, his little arms squeeze me so tight, as if he’s trying to soak up every second. He’ll kiss my cheek and say, “I love you so much, Mommy; you’re my best friend,” and melts my heart. There is no better sound than one of his belly laughs, because even the most boring thing can send him into a fit of laughter. He finds joy in so many ordinary things that the rest of us overlook.

And his big emotions make him the best friend in the world to have. He loves his friends so much that he talks about them all the time. He tells me all about his best friend in class and how much he loves playing with her. When my mom came to visit us, he was worried that my dad would be home alone. “Who will take care of him?” he asked, his little eyes full of concern and tears.

That’s my biggest fear as a mom of a kid with big emotions. Not that he will eventually learn how to deal with them. But that in a world that simply doesn’t understand him and his heart, he will be forced to conform to their rigidity, to hide who he really is. Much of the world won’t take the time to embrace his big emotions like we have. Of course, I don’t want him to have trouble, but I also don’t want him to have his individuality forced out by people who don’t understand him. Because we all know that it’s easier to make him to fit into society’s box than it is to help him, and others, to break down those barriers.

Some kids have big emotions. That’s a fact. Instead of fearing sending them out into a harsh world that will chew them up, we should be creating a world with more empathy and kindness. Because we could all stand to have a little more of that. Maybe take a note from one of our ‘big feelings’ kids.

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