Catching Calm: When Little Kids Have Big Emotions

Written by Michelle Nietert and Tama Fortner

When we think of catching things from others, we usually think about catching a cold or that latest icky bug that’s making the rounds. But there’s something else we can easily catch from others if we aren’t careful: emotions.

It’s the reason there are laws against yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Because fear and panic can so easily spread. Anger can zip from person to person like lightning, and worry can whisper through a crowd faster than you can say, “What if…”

The good news, however, is that fear, anger, and worry aren’t the only emotions that can be “caught.” We can also catch a sense of calm.

We see that play out often in Jesus’s interactions with His followers. Perhaps one of the most dramatic examples of this is when the disciples were out in the boat, tossed by the storm, and terrified by the figure walking toward them on the water. In the midst of that storm, Jesus calmly called out His reassurances. When Peter began to sink, He calmly lifted him from the waters. Then, stepping into the boat, He calmly stilled the storm (both the rainy one and the disciples’ own emotional ones), transforming their terror into worship (Matthew 14:22–33).

In other words, when Jesus’ followers looked to Him, they “caught” His calm.

What does this have to do with the big emotions our little ones can experience? The children in our lives (and let’s be honest, plenty of grownups too) look to us in their fear and worry and frustration, and they will “catch” whatever our own attitude and response is. Will it be calm? Will it be reassuring? Will it be pointing them to Jesus?

That’s why it’s essential that we don’t get caught up in the child’s emotional intensity—that we don’t catch their emotions. Yes, we want to acknowledge what they’re feeling and try to understand, but we need to stay calm. For some of us, calm is easy. Others of us tend to absorb the feelings of others like emotional sponges and need to more intentionally seek calm. Because it’s those calm and thoughtful responses that will give littles the sense of safety they need.

In today’s anxiety-plagued world, more than ever before, kids need to know that we aren’t fragile. They need to be reassured that there is nothing they’ll ever face that we and they—together with God—can’t get through. Our ability to regulate our own emotions and stay calm is crucial. Our connection to God is crucial. It not only enables us to stay calm, but it also equips us to then be like extension cords—plugged into His power and connecting our littles to the One who can calm all the storms.

So when that little one in your life comes to you in the midst of their own storm, pause for just half a second before you respond. Breathe in and breathe out. Whisper Jesus’ name to remind you of how you want to be and Who you want to model. And then . . .

  • Lean down to listen—not just with your ears, but with your whole body. Keep your eyes on theirs and your voice gentle and calm.
  • Take their worries and fears seriously. Don’t dismiss or diminish them.
  • Look at the situation from their perspective. Be curious instead of judgmental. Let them know you understand and want to help them become calm and gain a fresh perspective.
  • If the child is so upset that they’re having trouble catching their breath, ask them to hold hands and breathe with you. Slowly breathe in through your nose for 1, 2, 3 and out through your mouth for 1, 2, 3. Breathe in God’s peace and breathe out the worries.
  • If the child struggles with holding hands, gently touch their arm and begin praying for them. (Or pray over them while they run their hands through water, which can calm an overstimulated child.) Speak words of blessing over them—those words of love and reassurance all children need to hear.

As you invite the God of all peace into the moment, His presence will both calm you and help you calm your little one’s worries and fears.

P.S. This also works wonderfully for those grownups who need to catch a little calm too.

NEW from Michelle Nieter and Tama Fortner: God, I Feel Scared


Michelle Nietert has been a licensed professional counselor for over twenty-five years and is the coauthor of God, I Feel Sad, as well as the award-winning Loved and Cherished: 100 Devotions for Girls and Make Up Your Mind. A passionate speaker, she is a frequent guest on national television and podcasts, including her own “Raising Mentally Healthy Kids.” She and her husband, Drew, have been married almost two decades with two school-aged children. Connect with Michelle at

Tama Fortner is an ECPA award-winning and bestselling author of more than sixty titles, including Simply Christmas, Easter Is Coming!, and God, I Feel Sad. She has collaborated with some of the biggest names in Christian publishing to create inspirational books for all ages. But her greatest accomplishments happen in a happy little home on the outskirts of Nashville, where she lives with her family and a feisty little pup who is convinced he’s people too. To learn more, visit