4 Ways to Teach Emotional Regulation

4 Ways to Teach Emotional Regulation

It's four thirty pm and your nine year old walks off the bus and through the door. Immediately, she kicks off her boots, throws off her coat, and proceeds to let out a blood curling scream. Before you even have a chance to react, she runs immediately to the couch and sinks her face into it, proclaiming that you can't 'make her' do her homework. As a parent, what would you do? Tell your child that homework is nonnegotiable and that they MUST do it? Demand that they stand up and put their boots away properly and hang up their coat? Perhaps there might be an instinct to take away a privilege in an effort to set boundaries and show your child that this type of behavior will NOT be tolerated. But it's clear that something is fueling your child's anger that happened long before she stepped in the door. 

While adults will implicitly take steps throughout their day to manage difficult scenarios such as taking a walk, or socializing with a friend during their lunch break, children do not have these innate skills in terms of managing their emotions.  Being able to manage difficult emotions- emotional regulation, is something that needs to be taught to children and not something that we can expect them to learn on their own. Here are four ways to teach emotional regulation at home that are simple, effective, and help children to feel as though they are in more control of their circumstances. 

1) Ask questions that help children to be able to make the connection between emotions and behavior:

 We need to go a step further than just teaching children what various emotions are. It's important that we are able to help them to make the connection in terms of HOW their emotions drive their behavior.  Asking them questions such as "What do you do when you are happy?" "How do you know when you are getting angry?" can help children understand their behavior in a more complete way and find solutions to stressors in their life. For example, instead of throwing their sister's toys around the room when they are angry, they could opt instead to go downstairs and play an active video game to get their energy out.

2) Set the tone every morning.

Start off the day by asking your child a question. Ask them if there is anything that they are excited for that day, or if there is anything that they might not be looking forward to. The idea is to not only give kids a chance to voice their feelings early in the day and feel heard, but also give you a sense of if your child might have a tough day and why. If you know first thing in the morning that Sam is really worried about Language Arts because he thinks that he might have to read in front of the class, asking the right questions can help to trouble shoot the issue first thing in the morning and give you an opportunity to speak with his teacher and come up with strategies for success during that part of Sam's day.

3)  Designate a 'cool down' spot in the house

This is different from the traditional punitive 'time out' because the child is opting to go there themselves. This reinforces and normalizes the importance of taking care of yourself and gives kids the opportunity to take a pause from a difficult situation. Things that can be put in this space include a pillow, bean bag chair, stress balls, and stuffed animals that the child can hold that they might find comforting. A timer can also be helpful, and can be used to give a child a break from a difficult homework assignment that is controlled and will eventually bring them back to finish the task at hand.

4) Share your own feelings

One of the best ways to normalize feelings an teach effective ways to manage emotions is to verbalize your own. Talk to your children about how a traffic jam might have made you feel frustrated, or how spilling your coffee at work might have made you angry. Speak to them about ways that you handled these situations, which shows kids that even adults have difficulties during the day and that being mad or angry is not something to be ashamed of.

Know that for some children, it takes time to learn new coping strategies and that it is important to reward small steps that they are taking towards that ultimate goal. Emotion regulation is a skill all of us can continue to hone our lives and parents can play a really active role in terms of shaping a child's ability to regulate their emotions in a truly positive way.