Nurturing Emotional Intelligence: Matching Your Child’s Reaction to the Size of the Problem

Parenting is a beautiful journey filled with joy, challenges, and growth opportunities, both for us and our children. One of the key skills we aim to instill in our little ones is emotional intelligence – the ability to recognize, understand, and manage their emotions. A vital aspect of emotional intelligence is teaching children to match their emotional reactions to the size of the problem they’re facing. In this blog, we’ll delve into the importance of this skill and explore strategies to help your child navigate their emotions in a healthy and balanced way.

What does “the size of the problem” mean?

Michelle Garcia Winner, a renowned expert in the field of social thinking and emotional regulation, introduces the concept that not all problems are created equal. The size of a problem determines how big or small our emotional reaction should be. Often society purports that emotions are the problem but in reality, emotions are a necessary part of life. Problems occur when the magnitude of an emotional reaction is mismatched for the situation and causes someone to act in unexpected ways. 

Imagine a scenario where your child’s reaction is far bigger than the problem at hand – perhaps they don’t get as much screen time as a sibling and this results in an inconsolable tantrum. Or on the other hand, your child might brush off a significant disappointment with indifference. These instances highlight a mismatch between the intensity of their emotions and the actual situation. Teaching your child to accurately gauge the size of a problem and respond accordingly is a crucial life skill that will serve them well in the long run.

Why Emotional Intelligence Matters:

Problem-Solving Skills: By teaching children to assess the size of a problem, we encourage them to engage in constructive problem-solving. This skill helps them find appropriate solutions rather than resorting to extreme reactions.

Resilience: When children learn to proportionally match their emotional reactions to the size of the problem, they develop resilience. They can bounce back from setbacks and challenges more effectively, knowing that not every situation warrants an extreme emotional response.

Healthy Relationships: Emotional intelligence contributes to the development of healthy relationships. When children can express their emotions appropriately, they foster better communication with peers, siblings, and eventually, in their adult relationships.

Decision-Making: Rational decision-making is often impaired by strong emotions. By learning to manage their emotions, children can make better choices, considering both their feelings and logical reasoning.

Strategies to Teach Matching Emotional Reactions:

Teach Your Child the Size of the Problem:

Small problems can be taken care of quickly and can be solved on our own or with the help of another person. Kids can help other kids solve small problems. Medium problems take more time to solve and require more help. Usually adults help solve medium problems. However, it’s expected that kids help solve medium problems with the adults. Finally, big problems take a lot of time to take care of and require a lot of help from others. When big problems happen, even adults need help from other adults.

Practice Gauging the Size of the Problem:

Everyday, have your child tell you about a problem they encountered during the day and ask them to identify if it was a small, medium, or big problem. If your child has a hard time with these broad categories, you can ask them to rate the problem on a scale of 1 to 10.

Model Emotion Regulation:

Children learn a lot from watching their parents. When you encounter challenges, talk aloud about your emotions and how you’re managing them. This models effective emotional regulation.

Acknowledge and Label Emotions:

Help your child recognize and name their emotions. By doing so, you empower them to understand what they’re feeling and why.

Discuss Different Scenarios:

Read stories (or create your own!) that illustrate various problems, ranging in size. Discuss with your child how they would feel in each situation and what an appropriate emotional response might look like.

Practice Mindfulness:

Mindfulness techniques, such as deep breathing and grounding exercises, can help children calm their emotions and respond more thoughtfully.

Encourage Perspective-Taking:

Guide your child to see situations from different angles. This helps them realize that a problem may not be as catastrophic as it initially seems.

Use Empathetic Language:

Teach your child phrases like “I understand you’re upset” and “It’s okay to feel sad.” This validates their emotions while also gently encouraging them to consider the situation’s magnitude.

Reflect and Learn:

After an emotional episode, discuss with your child whether their reaction matched the problem’s size. This reflection encourages self-awareness and growth.


As parents, we hold the key to nurturing our children’s emotional intelligence and helping them match their emotional reactions to the size of the problem they’re facing. By instilling this skill early on, we equip them to navigate life’s challenges with resilience, empathy, and a balanced perspective. Remember, it’s a journey, and with patience and consistent guidance, we can empower our children to become emotionally intelligent individuals who handle their feelings with grace and wisdom.

Need more help parenting a child or teen with big emotions? Schedule an intake session easily on our website or call us at 925-322-1261.

Find Your Next Read:

The Power of Super Feelers: Understanding Intense Emotions and DBT’s Approach

The Power of Stories: Unraveling the Psychology Behind Their Resilience and Healing

Nurturing Resilience in Children: A Guide to Embracing Mistakes and Learning from Them

Overcoming Social Anxiety: Tips for Thriving in Social Situations

Parenting a Child with Anxiety: Insights from a Psychologist