What is Emotional Regulation?
Emotional regulation is the ability to effectively manage and respond to an emotional experience.
Why is Emotional Regulation Important?
Emotional regulation helps kids
- Process difficult experiences and feelings without getting “out of control”
- Label emotions and identify their feelings
- Build self-awareness of feelings and responses to situations
- Recognize if an emotional response is appropriate or not to a given situation
- Gain efficient coping and self-regulation strategies
- Participate in daily activities including school, play, self-care
How to Help Teach Emotional Regulation
1. Label feelings (accurately)
In order to regulate our emotions, we need to be aware of, able to express, and manage our emotions appropriately. Developing an emotional vocabulary is important because kids need to be able to identify different feelings. They need to be able to differentiate “angry” from other heightened emotions such as “frustrated,” “anxious,” or “embarrassed.” Talk to your child about how they are feeling, help them label the emotion, and use visuals if needed. Discuss why they may be feeling that way. We can also label feelings for characters in books or on TV shows. Children should know that all feelings are okay to feel, we have feelings for a reason (e.g. to keep us safe, to tell others we need comfort, etc.). As an adult, we can model and normalize emotions (e.g. “I’m feeling angry, I need to take a break and calm down before we talk.”)
2. Teach Body Cues and Calming Strategies for Different Emotions
What clues does your body give you when you’re feeling angry? Does your jaw tense, fists clench, face get hot, or eyebrow furrow? Help your child recognize their own body cues. When they notice these cues, they can take a few deep breaths, walk away from the situation, or take a 5 minute cool down break. Recognizing these cues early on and implementing a calming strategy can prevent a tantrum, outburst, or meltdown. Again, use visuals! Giving a few calm down choices can help a child choose a strategy. Some examples of calm down strategies:
3. Practice Mindfulness (my favorite)
It is proven that emotional regulation is a benefit of mindfulness. Pay attention to the NOW with no judgement. You can practice this with your kids. Take some time each day to focus on breathing or the feeling of your feet grounded on the floor or sit bones grounded on your chair or the floor. As we sit in nothingness and our minds wander, practice coming back to your breath or the feeling of your bodies grounded. Allow the mind to have thoughts without judging those thoughts or becoming too distracted by them. This is HARD (really hard sometimes), but with consistent practice, your kids will be better able to stay calm amidst chaos and overwhelming thoughts. It builds self-awareness and allows for better management of emotions. There are a ton of guided resources for mindfulness online. A few of my faves:
Emotional regulation is a skill that must be taught to most children. We want our children to be able to manage or change an emotional response to match a given situation and maintain a comfortable level of arousal. The better kids are at regulating emotions, the better they are able to cope with day to day stressors and participate in daily activities.