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Managing that Growling Bear of Emotions

Written By Dr. Nancy Liu

Illustration by Kayla Ladeinde

Children and adults alike often experience strong emotions that can be difficult to manage, perhaps especially these days. We try many things to deal with these emotions—sometimes they work and sometimes they just don’t. When we don’t manage our emotions well, it can be like trying to sit on top of a blanket to keep a big, growling bear quiet. We know we’re likely in for trouble then!

Not being able to manage our emotions effectively affects not only ourselves, but also those we love and interact with on a day-to-day basis. In particular, not managing certain negative emotions, like anger, shame, sadness, and anxiety can lead to interactions that may even make the situation worse.

Not all hope is lost, though! There are many things we can do to manage emotions well. Some of us learned that emotions were bad or dangerous as young children and we learned to stuff them aside or hide them away from view. We may strive to keep a cool exterior in the face of strong, intense emotions. This may work in the short-term, but if you’ve ever tried to do this, you know that it doesn’t work for very long!

Emotions are also what bring us to life. They bring a vividness to our experiences and in fact, teach us a lot about what kinds of situations we’re facing. Often times, emotions show us a lot about our specific experiences. If we’re feeling frustrated and sad, for example, we can look around and be curious about what it is that’s got us down. There’s a lot these days! The same can go for other intense, positive emotions, like happiness, wonder, interest, and joy. They tell us that whatever it is that is bringing up these emotions in our lives, we could certainly use more of it!

All emotions are welcome. So let’s try to open the door. Step inside and join us as we explore these emotions further. Over the next few posts, we’ll be going through 3 specific skills of emotion regulation, or ways to manage our emotions effectively. These are based on research and in the books, we will specifically show you and your children how to go through these skills.

So what are the skills? Well there’s an easy way to remember them: Label, Link, Luminate.

Today we’ll go through the first skill, Label.


To label means to identify your emotions through understanding their names. Like naming a new pet, naming an emotion helps us to recognize it and become more familiar with our feelings over

time. It is one of the first skills to getting a better understanding of our different emotions.

Research has shown that the simple act of naming an emotion—especially when we are experiencing it in a heightened or an extreme way—can alone reduce the intensity of strong emotions. Think back to our growling bear beneath the blanket that you’re trying to keep quiet. Maybe now it’s becoming quieter because we’re paying attention. Maybe now it’s becoming quieter cause we’re acknowledging it. Maybe now it’s becoming quieter because we’re seeing what it wants or is trying to tell us. And a fun fact—the more we can be creative with naming our emotions, the better!

Now let’s name our big, growling bear pet you’re still sitting on top of. Maybe its name is the feeling, Anger. Maybe it’s Hungry because you were rushed this morning and skipped breakfast. Or maybe it’s Hangry, because it’s now a combination of these two emotions. Or better yet, maybe its name is Grouchy, Growly Grumbly Bear! Remember, being more creative with names also helps us capture the specificity and nuances of the emotion. That is, we’re catching onto the finer tuned details of what we’re feeling, which will be helpful for us later when we explore our other two skills.

Beyond naming the emotions in ourselves, we can also name the emotions in others. If we look around us, emotions are truly everywhere, giving zest and color to all of our moments and interactions.

We can do this while watching people. That woman crossing the street looks pensive, bored, and tired from running this morning. We can do this while watching cartoons. Jerry looks anxious and determined to get away from Tom. We can do this while looking at our pets. Ruffy is looking excited that you’re about to go out for a walk! We can do this with our children. Ethan is delighted that you’re going to play his favorite game together.

Having a rich vocabulary is the first step to being able to understand our emotions. Like learning a new language, we want to start with our basic emotion words, like angry, sad, and happy. See our emotion wheel below. As we get more used to these names, we can mix them together or create new ones. It reminds me a lot of a color wheel, when we start with our primary colors. Eventually, we can mix and match different colors to create really unique and interesting colors like Peaches & Cream. The same goes for our emotions--there’s a richness to life when we are able to understand the rich textures of our emotions.

So have fun with labeling your emotions and those of others today. I hope you’ll discover a new dimension to your experiences. Join us next time, as we go through our second skill, Link.


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