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Help Preschoolers Handle Strong Emotions

Books, TV shows, movies, and apps to help tame (and prevent) tantrums.

When you're little, things aren't all fun and games. Big feelings can sweep in without warning -- and the resulting tantrums can be brutal for kids and parents. No one can predict or prevent everything that can cause kids to lose their minds (check out this website if you need proof). But identifying and managing feelings are important skills for kids to learn. When kids can calm themselves, verbally express their feelings, and start to understand what others are feeling, they feel more confident and secure (and parents feel more sane). Age-appropriate books, TV shows, movies, and apps that reinforce positive social-emotional skills can be very effective in helping preschoolers recognize and work through difficult feelings. Try out some of the best media picks:

While there are tons of books with positive messages about emotions, these are three of our favorites:

  • The Duckling Gets a Cookie!?
    Pigeon isn't happy when he sees Duckling get a treat, but he quickly learns that throwing a tantrum isn't the way to get what he wants.
  • Llama Llama Mad At Mama
    Llama Llama is on a long and boring shopping trip with Mama Llama and can't take one more minute! With Mama's help, he cleans up the mess he makes and calms down.
  • Lenny and Lucy
    When Peter and his dad move, Peter is scared in his new house. As he acclimates, he uses some concrete tools to help him fight his fears.

Inside Out is arguably the best movie for kids about emotions, but it's better for a slightly older audience. For the littlest moviegoers, these titles offer positive role models and strong examples.

  • Frozen
    Elsa is taught to keep all her difficult feelings in check, with terrible results. Her sister, Anna, is impulsive and acts on a whim. They ultimately learn the power of love and emotional balance.
  • The Peanuts Movie
    Charlie Brown isn't known for success, but in this movie version, he keeps trying to reach his goal despite his frustration (and is ultimately recognized for his strength of character).
  • Tinker Bell and the Legend of the Neverbeast
    A fairy has to learn about how to stop and think about balancing one's own needs and interests in relation to the community's.

TV Shows
No one can quite match the magic of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood or the timeless wisdom of Sesame Street when it comes to guidance about strong feelings, but here are some other shows that can help kids cope.

  • Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood
    In the updated spin-off of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, an animated Daniel interacts with family and friends and learns self-regulation skills in the form of catchy songs.
  • Doc McStuffins
    As she fixes all manner of toys whose problems mirror real-life troubles, Doc teaches kids about lots of issues, including feelings.
  • Henry Hugglemonster
    Henry navigates relatable ins and outs of a preschooler's day-to-day interactions, including tricky emotions.

Though we often turn to apps for traditional learning such as the ABCs and math, some selections deal with "soft" skills, such as social-emotional learning, including the following picks.

  • Avokiddo Emotions
    Before kids can manage their feelings, they need to be able to identify them. As kids see animals react to costumes and situations in different ways, they can learn about various emotions.
  • Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame
    What should you do when things are upsetting? This app walks kids through several familiar situations in which they might need to manage their emotions and gives them a practical process to apply to their own feelings.
  • Settle Your Glitter
    Like a real-world jar full of glitter, this app gives kids a visual marker as they calm down. Breathing Bubbles is another app by the same developer that offers a concrete strategy for when stress strikes.
Christine Elgersma
Christine Elgersma is the editor for learning app reviews as Senior Editor, Learning Content. Before coming to Common Sense, she helped cultivate and create ELA curriculum for a K-12 app and taught the youth of America as a high school teacher, a community college teacher, a tutor, and a special education instructional aide. Christine is also a writer, primarily of fiction and essays, and loves to read all manner of books. When she's not putting on a spontaneous vaudeville show with her daughter, Christine loves to hike and listen to music, sometimes simultaneously.