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EFFT: help your child with big emotions and challenging behaviours

How to help your child with their BIG EMOTIONS and

After helping many parents work with their children to successfully regulate their child’s emotions and unhelpful behaviours, I’m sharing how Emotion-Focused Family Therapy (EFFT) can help you to provide support for your child who struggles with big emotions, and/or angry verbal and/or physical outbursts.

Let’s dig into some brief science, but I promise, only for a moment…

In the absence of the prefrontal cortex from being fully developed until the age of 25, you can imagine that children are generally governed by their emotions, meaning that they typically react before they think and typically don’t consider the consequences of their actions until that prefrontal cortex is fully developed. As a result, they may express more frequent and stronger emotions, flipping their proverbial “lids,” and engaging in impulsive decision-making. Here is a short video in case that “flipping your lid” idea is new to you.

Okay, the science part is over, but keep this in the back of your mind as you read on!

Here’s a scenario to consider:

Your child comes home from school angry, yelling, crying, hitting their sibling (or you!), won’t listen to or follow through with the tasks you’re requesting of them, refuses to acknowledge you, or is arguing back at you and you feel like you’re at your wits end wondering why my child is acting like this?! You attempt to be firm and stand your ground that they need to do what is being asked of them because these are the rules and expectations of your home. Period.

You’re not alone. This is how MOST of us react to our children who just won’t comply with the expectations we have in place or tasks we ask of them. Have you ever heard the phrase “can’t see the forest through the trees?” Well, this analogy applies here. Your child’s emotions are so big that they can’t see the logic through their big emotions (the logic being the expectations of behaviour in this scenario).

Enter EFFT (Parent Coaching).

The approach of EFFT is meant to provide support for parents by way of ‘emotion coaching’ (and some other fun approaches) to help de-escalate your child’s emotions. If you imagine an elevator on the top floor of the building, that’s where your child’s big emotions lie. Using ‘emotion coaching’ and ‘emotional support statements’ you can utilize these specific skills to help bring your child back down to the ground level where they can experience their emotions regulating. How do you ask? By taking this approach, you’re validating their emotions, and by validating their emotions you’re making them feel safe, heard, and understood.

Once they feel safe, heard, and understood, you can address the logical needs such as behavioural expectations, for example, which can only be absorbed by your child now that the emotions are calm and regulated. Through these techniques, your child will start to understand their emotions, and why they’re experiencing them, and the fear of these big emotions will become less scary and more manageable!

It’s important to remember that change takes time!!! Let’s say that again…change takes time!

No one is a perfect parent, and you may feel like you’re walking a tightrope now with this new EFFT approach but consider this analogy: If you’re on a ship sailing in the beautiful ocean, and you change the course of your journey by just one degree, your ship will gradually change the course of its direction entirely. In other words, trying these techniques at home with your child little by little can change the course of their emotional dysregulation to regulation over time!


As you’re engaging in emotion coaching with your child, you may start to apply this technique (and the other fun ones I noted earlier) to your own emotional responses, thereby becoming aware of any possible regulating needed within yourself which only benefit the emotional balance of your household! Win-win!

Affordable Counselling Program Hamilton

Amanda Lucia, MA (Cand.), RP (qualifying)

If you would like more support from our Parent Support Team, please reach out.
Our newest clinical Intern Amanda Lucia has recently trained in EFFT and is eager to support parents with practical skills and strategies that will help shift their relationships for the better. To connect with Amanda, please visit our intern page.