Emotional regulation is a crucial skill for children to develop as it helps them manage their feelings and reactions in a healthy and constructive way. It lays the foundation for better mental health, improved social interactions, and enhanced overall well-being.
Children, like adults, experience a wide range of emotions, from joy and excitement to anger and sadness. Teaching them how to regulate these emotions empowers them to navigate life’s challenges with resilience.
Kids of all ages and abilities can learn Emotional Regulation
Last summer, my 10 year-old Autistic son found himself experiencing some emotional dysregulation while he was at camp. Transitions continue to be a source of extreme anxiety for him, so when he isn’t given adequate warning, he can begin to feel quite a bit of distress. As his camp counselor approached him, however, she was surprised to see him taking several quick and deep breathes.
“Wow, are you calming yourself down? Who taught you to do that?”
“My mom,” he replied through quiet tears.
Within a few minutes, and without her assistance, he completely calmed down and was off to play with his friends.
I share this story because I am often met with people who declare, “The real wold won’t coddle their feelings, or what will he do when Mom’s not around to help him?” Well, as you see with my example, kids can and should learn emotional regulation strategies. They do not know how to calm themselves down without help, and leaving them to cry alone doesn’t teach them how to “self-soothe,” it teaches them how to cry on the inside, since their cries for help will be ignored. In this post, we will explore ten effective calming strategies for children.
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13 emotional Regulation Skills for Children
- Identify and Name Emotions
The first step in emotional regulation is to help children identify and label their emotions. Encourage your child to express what they are feeling by giving their emotions a name. You can use simple emotion words like “happy,” “sad,” “angry,” and “scared.” This practice helps children become more aware of their feelings and can make it easier for them to manage those emotions. For instance, by saying, “I see that you’re feeling angry right now,” you acknowledge their emotions and open the door for further discussion.
- Create a Safe and Supportive Environment
Children need a safe and nurturing environment where they feel comfortable sharing their emotions. Ensure that your child knows they can confide in you without judgment. Offer your unconditional support and active listening. This safe space will encourage them to express their feelings openly and help them learn that their emotions are valid.
Take things further by creating a calm-down corner at home. Decorate the corner with your kids favorite plushes, fidget toys, a blanket, or maybe even a little tent. Kids need time and space to understand their emotions and what helps them to process and work through them. A calm-down corner is a great place to allow your child to feel their feelings and regulate them without pressure.
- Deep Breathing and Relaxation Techniques
Teaching children deep breathing and relaxation techniques is an excellent way to help them manage overwhelming emotions. Breathing exercises, like the 4-7-8 technique or simply taking slow, deep breaths, can calm their nervous system and reduce anxiety. Guided imagery, where children imagine a peaceful place, can also be effective in easing emotional turmoil.
- Physical Activity
Engaging in physical activities like sports, yoga, or dancing can help kids release built-up energy and emotions. Exercise triggers the release of endorphins, which are known as “feel-good” hormones, promoting positive emotions and reducing stress. When your child is feeling distressed encourage them to practice grounding outside, or join them for a brisk walk around the neighborhood.
- Positive Self-Talk
Teach children the power of positive self-talk. Encourage them to replace negative or self-critical thoughts with more constructive and self-affirming statements. For example, if a child says, “I can’t do this; I’m terrible at it,” help them reframe it by saying, “I may find this challenging, but I can improve with practice.” This shift in self-talk can build resilience and a more positive outlook.
- Mindfulness and Meditation
Introduce mindfulness and meditation practices to children as tools for emotional regulation. Mindfulness encourages them to be present in the moment and non-judgmentally observe their thoughts and feelings. Meditation can help kids become more self-aware, manage stress, and respond to emotions more skillfully. Simple exercises like body scans and focusing on their breath can be adapted to suit a child’s age and understanding.
- Problem-Solving and Decision-Making Skills
Teaching children problem-solving and decision-making skills is another valuable aspect of emotional regulation. Encourage them to identify the problem or challenge, brainstorm possible solutions, consider the consequences of each option, and choose the best course of action. This process helps them take control of their emotions by empowering them to address the root causes of their distress.
- Emotional Regulation Activities
Engage children in activities that are specifically designed to improve their emotional regulation skills. Play games that help them recognize and manage emotions, such as emotion charades or feeling cards. These activities make learning about emotions fun and interactive, allowing children to practice their skills in a lighthearted way.
- Routine and Predictability
Children often thrive in structured environments with routines and predictability. A consistent daily routine can help them feel more secure and in control, reducing anxiety and emotional outbursts. Ensure that your child has a regular schedule for activities, meals, and bedtime. Consistency provides a sense of stability that can help with emotional regulation.
- Seek Professional Help When Needed
Sometimes, children may struggle with emotional regulation to a degree that requires professional intervention. If you notice persistent and severe emotional challenges in your child, it’s essential to consult with a mental health professional or counselor. They can offer strategies and tools tailored to your child’s specific needs and help you work together to improve their emotional regulation skills.
11. Use a Feelings Journal
Encourage your child to keep a “feelings journal” where they can write or draw about their daily emotions and experiences. This journal serves as an outlet for expression and allows them to track patterns in their emotions over time.
12. Practice Co-regulation
Co-regulation involves an adult or caregiver actively supporting and guiding a child in managing their emotions. This approach not only helps children develop their emotional regulation skills but also strengthens the bond between the child and the caregiver. One of my favorite co-regulation activities to do with my kids is EFT Tapping.
13. EFT Tapping
Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) tapping is a self-help technique that combines the principles of ancient Chinese acupressure with modern psychology. It involves tapping on specific points on the body, known as meridian points, while focusing on an emotional issue or problem. EFT tapping is used to alleviate emotional distress, reduce anxiety, and promote emotional regulation in both adults and children. Here’s how you can explain and introduce EFT tapping to your kids:
- Make It Kid-Friendly: When explaining EFT tapping to children, it’s essential to use simple and age-appropriate language. You can compare it to “magic” or “secret tricks” that help them feel better when they’re upset or worried. Emphasize that it’s something fun and easy to do.
- Explain the Purpose: Start by explaining that EFT tapping is a tool to help them manage their feelings, especially when they feel upset, scared, or angry. Tell them it can make their emotions feel better and help them calm down.
- The Tapping Points: Children may not need to know the exact meridian points used in EFT, but you can explain the general areas where tapping is done. Common tapping points include the top of the head, eyebrow, side of the eye, under the eye, under the nose, chin, collarbone, and under the arm. You can make it engaging by calling these points fun names, like “top of the mountain” for the top of the head.
Emotional regulation is a critical skill that children need to develop as they grow. By teaching them these ten strategies, you can help your child navigate their emotions effectively, fostering their mental well-being and enhancing their overall quality of life.
These strategies provide a toolkit for children to manage their feelings, interact with others more positively, and face life’s challenges with resilience. Remember that emotional regulation is an ongoing process, and with your guidance and support, your child can learn to regulate their emotions and lead a happier, healthier life.