Extreme Language Around Emotions

with Penny Williams

In this episode of Beautifully Complex, I tackle why our kids and teens might use extreme language to express their emotions. We’re recognizing that expressions like “I hate you” or phrases that include aggression or violence often aren’t literal but signal an inability to articulate complex emotions.

I talk about the importance of distinguishing between different feelings and emphasize the role parents play in guiding their kids to understand and communicate their emotions more precisely. Through my experiences and the stories I share — like my child’s alarming description of a recess incident — I highlight how easy it is to misunderstand our kids’ emotional needs.

We’ll unpack essential skills like social emotional learning, interoception, and how to be the calm anchor for your kids. Listen in for practical strategies to improve your child’s emotional communication.

3 key takeaways:
    1. Understanding Emotional Extremes: Recognize that when kids and teens use extreme language or exhibit extreme behavior, it’s often a sign that they’re struggling to communicate the depth of their emotions, not necessarily that they intend to act on these statements.
    2. Teaching Emotional Nuance: It’s crucial to help kids understand the spectrum of emotions beyond just happy, mad, or sad, and to teach them how to express their feelings in more appropriate and nuanced ways. This includes building their skills in social-emotional learning and interoception.
    3. Parental Response Strategies: When faced with extreme emotional expressions by kids, parents should strive to not take statements personally and maintain a calm presence to offer co-regulation. Once regulated again, you work on building your kid’s skills in identifying, interpreting, and communicating their feelings.

You’ll Learn

  • Understanding Emotional Extremes: You’ll learn why kids may express their emotions in extreme ways and the importance of understanding these behaviors to effectively address them.

  • Identifying Root Causes: You’ll discover how to interpret what extreme language or actions may indicate about your child’s or teen’s emotional state, including feeling emotionally or psychologically unsafe or being unable to self-regulate.

  • Improving Communication Skills: You’ll gain strategies for teaching kids how to express the intensity of their emotions accurately, helping them to communicate feelings like fear or anger in more nuanced and appropriate ways.

  • Social Emotional Learning: You’ll learn about tools to help children understand the different degrees of their emotions, allowing for better self-expression and emotional management.

  • Practicing Regulation Techniques: You’ll get insights into interoception and co-regulation, crucial skills for helping kids express their feelings appropriately.


  • The Survival to Success Accelerator: Your roadmap out of survival mode.

  • Subscribe to Clarity — my weekly newsletter to help you get clear on how to be the parent your neurodivergent kid needs.

  • Work with me to level up your parenting — online parent training and coaching  for neurodiverse families.

Some of the resources may be affiliate links, meaning I receive a commission (at no cost to you) if you use that link to make a purchase.


Penny Williams [00:00:03]: So often, our kids only see emotions in those real extremes, and we have to help them to be able to see the nuance of emotions, to see the different emotions that fall into the categories of happy, or mad, or sad, so that they can express how they're feeling in a more appropriate way. Welcome to the Beautifully Complex podcast, where I share insights and strategies on parenting neurodivergent kids straight from the trenches. I'm your host, Penny Williams. I'm a parenting coach, author, and mindset mama, honored to guide you on the journey of raising your atypical kid. Let's get started. Hi, everyone. Welcome back to the Beautifully Complex podcast. Today, I want to talk to you about extreme language and extreme actions, and why that happens with our kids, and what we can do to help those kind of situations.

Penny Williams [00:01:14]: You know, I hear from parents all the time, my kid says all of these really extreme things that make me really scared for them, or really hurt. And while we don't necessarily accept what they're saying, or the actions that they're having, what we need to do first is understand why that is happening, because as I've talked about a 1000000 times before, we have to understand the reason the behavior is happening in order to change it. And so, you might hear your kids say things like, I shouldn't be alive. I hate you. I'm gonna kill them. I might as well die. You never loved me, or I never loved you. You're the worst parent ever.

Penny Williams [00:02:06]: And that is really hurtful. Right? Some of that is really scary, Threatening harm to oneself or someone else is a really scary thing. Right? And so, we worry that our kids may actually mean these things literally. And oftentimes they don't. And I'm gonna get to what I mean by that in just a moment. The other extremes that can happen is extreme behavior, is extreme actions. Right? They might be throwing, punching, destroying property, locking themselves in their room, maybe even getting a knife from the kitchen. We don't talk about this enough because people are afraid, and they're ashamed, and they think that others are gonna judge them.

Penny Williams [00:02:58]: But what happens so often in these situations is that our kids only see things in extremes, and they're really trying to get us to understand the depth of their emotions, the depth of their hurt and their pain, and they don't know how to do that in a different way. So let's look at in detail what that use of extremes is telling you. If that is your kid, what is this behavior, either saying extreme things or acting in in really extreme ways that might be aggressive, and violent, and scary. What do they mean? Number 1, is that they only see emotions in extremes. Here's what I mean by that. If I am mad, I am raging, I am destroying things, I am threatening people to keep myself safe. If I'm sad, it's the end of the world, I might as well be dead. If they're happy, sometimes even that is an extremes, they're bouncing off the walls, they're saying, you know, crazy things about just fantastical stuff.

Penny Williams [00:04:09]: Right? So often, our kids only see emotions in those real extremes, and we have to help them to be able to see the nuance of emotions, to see the different emotions that fall into the categories of happy or mad or sad, so that they can express how they're feeling in a more appropriate way. The other reason that kids might use extremes, what it's telling you is that they're trying to communicate the depths, the intensity of their feelings. When my own kid was younger, I would come home from school and just say the most crazy stories and I, for a long time, didn't understand it, and so I would say, I know that didn't happen, or no, you know, like one time he came home and he said, John tried to kill me on the playground, and he was adamant that this student in the 3rd grade literally tried to end his life. And I knew that wasn't true. Right? We're talking about 9 year olds. I knew it wasn't true. And I was trying to talk him down and rationalize it and say, you know, I know that's not true. He didn't try to kill you, you need to be more actual and factual in what you're telling me.

Penny Williams [00:05:32]: And what I learned later is that he was telling me what it felt like, what that interaction with John felt like to him. It felt very scary, it felt very unsafe, and the extreme language that he was using was to try to communicate to me the intensity of danger he felt from that kid in that moment. That requires a very different response. Right? That may require a conversation, But by saying to him, when I didn't know any better, oh, that didn't happen. I was invalidating how he was feeling, and I was not helpful. And it didn't teach him how to better express how he was feeling either. So let's talk about now, what do we do? So kids are saying extreme things, they're acting in extreme ways. We but we still need to address the issue.

Penny Williams [00:06:46]: Right? Because it's not healthy to see everything in extremes. It's not healthy to sort of exaggerate when you communicate to somebody what has happened to you. So we need to talk about what do we do with this. First, I want you to know that you need to work on not taking it personally. If your kid screams, I hate you, in the middle of the grocery store, when you take it personally, the shame, the blame, the hiding, all these things come into play. You can't take it personally. You have to be able to stay a little bit detached from your own emotions, honestly, when that is happening, so that you can be helpful rather than escalating that situation. The other thing that you can do is to work on social emotional learning.

Penny Williams [00:07:44]: Work on teaching your child the different emotions that fall into maybe the angry bucket. Talking about how when you're frustrated, when you're doing your homework, it's not appropriate to be raging and destroying property. It's not appropriate to be saying hateful things to people that the way that we communicate frustration looks different, And just really working through all the different nuances of angry, of happy, of sad, so that we can really help kids to be able to communicate and even identify for themselves feelings at different levels of intensity, so everything isn't necessarily super super intense at that extreme. We also want to teach kids how to use language that is talking about how things feel versus what actually happened in reality. So teaching them to say, like, in that example, when John did this to me today at recess, it felt like he was trying to kill me. So he actually, you know, shoved me, and I fell on the ground, but it felt like he was trying to kill me. They're very different, and our kids need to have that nuance of language and communication in order to be able to manage feelings and emotions at the appropriate level for what is going on. Another strategy for that is to work on interoception.

Penny Williams [00:09:25]: Interoception is our signals that our body gives us, like, when your stomach growls, it's telling you that you're hungry. When your skin feels cold, it's telling you that you're cold, you need maybe to put gloves on. Working on identifying how your body is feeling and interpreting those signals is really important to help kids work through those feelings and emotions, because they need to be able to notice those senses and then be able to communicate them in appropriate healthy way, and also to interpret them for themselves and for others, you know. Other people can't feel your stomach growling. They might hear it, but a lot of times they don't. So you need to interpret your own body signal and then be able to communicate it in an appropriate way. So if I feel a real sense of panic and my skin is sort of tingly, I need to be able to identify that. If I start yelling at people and saying hateful things and destroying property, they're not gonna have any idea that I actually feel anxious, that I'm panicked for some reason.

Penny Williams [00:10:43]: Right? So we need to teach kids how to interpret those body signals and then communicate what's going on for them in a healthy appropriate way. And we also need to be the calm anchor. We need to be the calm presence in these situations. When we're able to stay calm, then our kids are more able to stay calm. Right? Because we are offering coregulation. If we match their intensity, we're escalating that situation. We are escalating that feeling of not being safe that they're feeling. And remember, we feel safe or unsafe in a variety of ways.

Penny Williams [00:11:24]: It's not just physical danger. It's also social, emotional, and mental or psychological danger. So your child might feel emotionally unsafe, and they might be lashing out, they might be looking like they're super aggressive and violent and angry, when actually, they are just really really unsafe and dysregulated, and that is the only way that they know how to communicate it, or they are so far dysregulated that their thinking brain is offline, they can't access it, and they can't even think about how to communicate how they're feeling. So working on self regulation, regulation activities helps a great deal with this as well. Now as you are listening to this, this episode comes out on April 18, 2024. The registration for our survival to success accelerator program is open. It's open from April 16th to April 22, 2024. This was formerly known as behavior revolution program, now called survival to success accelerator.

Penny Williams [00:12:37]: We actually have a regulation toolkit with that program with a feelings will with a feelings poster that are designed for this exact purpose that I've talked about in this episode, to help your kids learn emotional nuance, communication skills. That program walks you through every step of doing all of the things that I just talked about doing to help when your kid communicates their feelings in tense, extreme ways. So registration is open right now until April 22, 2024. If you're listening after those dates, you can go to the same link I'm about to give you, join our waiting list for the next time registration opens, and you will get a free starter kit that will help get you started on this path and on this journey. You can go to thebehaviorrevolution.com/program. The behavior revolution.com/ program. I will also have that linked up in the show notes for this episode, which are at parentingadhdandautism.com/261 for episode 261. So really work on stepping back when this happens and asking yourself, is my child struggling to really communicate to me the intensity of their feeling, the depth of the struggle, the pain, the feeling of unsafety, of not being safe, or are they just only seeing their emotions in one way, one extreme, or could it be both? And what can you do about that? How can you start building these skills to really help your kid? Of course, we would love to have you in the survival to success accelerator program to be able to work with you and help you more on that as well, and there are many different podcast episodes if you're not ready to take the program that can help you in these areas of social emotional learning of feelings and emotions and communication, and just emotional intelligence and regulation skills.

Penny Williams [00:14:53]: So I hope that you will check that out in one way or another and start working on those skills with your kids or your students. And I will see you on the next episode. Take really good care. Thanks for joining me on the Beautifully Complex podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and share. And don't forget to check out my online courses and parent coaching at parentingadhdandautism.com and at thebehaviorrevolution.com.

Thanks for joining me!

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