3 Tips to Help Children with Emotional Regulation
Written for Kids & Company by Julia Swaigen (MSW, RSW), the Founder and Director of Attuned Families
Are big feelings taking over your household? One of the most challenging parts of parenting is helping your child with emotional regulation. It is also one of the most important parts of parenting. When you help your child with their emotional regulation skills, you give them the opportunity for success later in life.
Learning how to manage feelings such as sadness, anger and disappointment is a critical part of growing up. If your child can understand and use their emotions in positive ways, it reduces their everyday stress and helps improve their relationships.
In fact, the ability to relieve stress, communicate their feelings and overcome challenges is a bigger predictor of a child’s success than their IQ.
Of course, this is easier said than done. Children are complicated, amazing and exhausting! The good news is that it’s never too late to start building strategies into your family life to help your child cope with their feelings. A small step now can lead to large rewards as your entire family learns to better support healthy emotions.
3 Tips to Help Children with Emotional Regulation
Free play promotes emotional self-regulation.
Children learn to work out their feelings best when they are given the chance to play without rules (except for safety, of course) and without expectations. Free play also allows children who struggle with controlling their emotions to learn how to notice their feelings and start to problem solve.
While many of us grown-ups process feelings by talking them through, or taking space, children process feelings through play. If your child is unusually upset and you are unsure why, observing their play can give you a window into their world. You may see them “playing out” something that’s been bothering them. For example, if they have a grandparent in hospital, you might see them playing doctor.
For older children, play can look like expressive arts, writing or music, a card game or a board game. Pay attention to what kind of activities your child chooses and make some time each day for them to develop their emotion regulation skills using these open-ended, play-based strategies.
Build an emotional support system around your child and family.
Parenting can be draining. There are so many ups and downs, so many judgement calls and so many triggers for our own emotions. Incorporating different people in your child’s life not only shows them how others manage feelings and practice self-regulation, but it also gives you the opportunity to take care of yourself and your own emotional well-being.
Parenting was not meant to be done alone. We were meant to have a village of other people there to support us. Think big and consider all the forms of support that are available to you, both close at home and in the wider community. Informal supports refer to trusted family, friends, neighbours and community groups while formal supports include (but are not limited to) medical, recreational, and mental health professionals.
There is no right or wrong way to build your own personal village; the important thing is to surround your family with individuals who understand and respect the challenges in emotion regulation. This allows your family to stay on track or access support if your child needs more help coping with their feelings.
Take the time to emotionally connect with your children.
Let’s be honest - being a parent is a lot of work. The emotional labour of parenting can overwhelm the most prepared and conscious parent. There is so much pressure on parents to teach their children how to be kind, polite, and responsible. We’re there to help our kids learn about the world and how to stay safe. We get them ready each morning and tuck them into bed each night.
If you add in all the other demands of daily life, it is easy to get caught up in rushing around. You can turn the tables on this by encouraging everyone in the family to slow down and connect to their feelings - one of the building blocks of emotional regulation.
How can you do this? Start by pausing every once and a while by taking the time to connect with your child for the sake of connecting, without any goals or pressure to accomplish anything. There’s no limit to how this can look but some examples include:
Sitting together quietly
Reading a favourite story
Giving a hug
Playing a game
These moments can give your child the sense of security they need to allow you into their emotional world. It also teaches them that simple activities with trusted and loving individuals will help them regulate their own emotions and make their lives happier and calmer.
Adding strategies to support your child’s emotional regulation into your family’s life can feel like a monumental task. Remind yourself that even one little change in your daily or weekly life can have very significant impacts on supporting your kids’ capacity to self-regulate and manage their moods and feelings.
If you feel that you or your child is struggling with emotion regulation or if you would like more support, Child Therapy, Family Therapy or Parent Coaching can help.
You may also benefit from joining the Attuned Village, a safe place where parents come together to ask their questions, receive support and make connections with like-minded parents, all under the guidance of a clinician.
To see what solution is right for your family, feel free to contact Attuned Families. We would be pleased to help you.
You can also fill out a form on our website to book a free 20-minute consultation.