How To Help A Child Regulate Their Emotions
There are so many things we need to juggle as parents. Whether it’s work, family admin, running our homes, managing our children’s schedule alongside our own commitments, or trying to fit in all the stuff we feel (and know) we should be doing, such as self-care, exercise and getting plenty of sleep.
These things can be more complicated when we try to manage our child’s big emotions alongside our own. To make things a little easier, here are some proven techniques to help you through the emotional minefield of being a parent.
1) Allow feelings to happen (that means yours as well as your child’s)
By handling our emotions and allowing our children to see us do it, we model good behavior and teach them to do the same. If we feel frustrated or angry, we should acknowledge and share that out aloud, and then demonstrate how we deal with big emotions.
You could say, “I feel worried right now, I have a busy day tomorrow, and I don’t know if I will get everything done in time. I am going to take a nice bath to help myself calm down“.
By talking about emotions, we help our children to understand how emotions can affect how we think and behave. If we hide difficult emotions, we lose out on the opportunity to teach our kids how to identify and manage these big emotions. You also send a powerful message when you handle emotions in a calm, positive way. (Plus we’re doing wrong to our own wellbeing.)
2) Validate your child’s emotions.
It’s important that we treat emotions as normal and help our children understand that everyone has feelings. It is also okay and valid to feel different emotions and feelings throughout the day. It’s acceptable to be sad then happy and then angry if we’ve experienced things that drive these emotions.
It can be easy to invalidate or minimise a child’s emotion by telling them “it’s not a big deal” or to “stop acting that way”. We sometimes do it without even realising it. Your child needs to know that any and all feelings are normal, and that everyone feels worried, mad, or sad at different times. Have a conversation about the times you have felt those emotions, and validate and reinforce that it is okay for them to share the same with you.
3) Help to label big feelings
We develop our vocabulary well into adulthood, so it’s obvious that children often don’t have the right words to describe how they are really feeling. It can often be helpful having conversations about emotions when reading books or watching TV. Talk about how the characters express how they feel with facial expressions and behaviors. Continue with exploring how your child thinks this may influence their actions and consequences of behaviors. Help them learn, understand and use vocabulary to label their feelings.
4) Give time and space
Rather than trying to ‘stop’ your child in the middle of an emotional melt-down, it can be a better strategy to step back for a few moments, let them react, and then suggest they take some deep breaths or partake in another activity that will repurpose their energy. Helping your child calm down and reduce their emotions will create a better place to start talking about what they are feeling and work through it with guidance.
5) Intervene before it becomes too difficult
If you can see your child becoming overwhelmed or finding things difficult, encourage taking a break from the activity to self-regulate. This might take the form of a conversation, moving their body in a different way to expel energy or just simply distracting them from the task with another, so they can re-engage when they feel calmer.
6) The time and space to vent
If your child is dealing with a difficult emotion, you can help them get some release by providing a safe environment. Try giving them the space to be loud and boisterous, or sharing a pillow they can hit, or suggesting some exercise. Exercise is fantastic as it produces endorphins in the body and reduces stress. You may take them on a fast-paced walk or bike ride. Being loud by shouting, singing or making funny noises can also be beneficial, especially with younger children.
7) Avoid reinforcing outbursts
Sometimes as parents, we can inadvertently encourage outbursts. We don’t do it intentionally, but rewarding ‘being quiet’ or showering your child with attention can reinforce that getting upset or bursting into tears and reacting can get them what they want.
We also need to be mindful of telling children to stop crying, because we don’t want them to think crying or being sad is ‘wrong’. Instead, stay alongside them and acknowledge their feelings. Be understanding and empathetic. It is excellent to offer reassurance, but it’s also essential for your child to learn to self-regulate. By constantly calming them down, they don’t get the opportunity to learn how to control their own body.
If your child has difficulty verbalizing their feelings, getting creative can help to express emotions. They can draw, paint or write what their feelings look like. They can point to ‘where’ they are feeling on their body. You can use this as a way to start a conversation. Coloring, playdoh or any way to get creative will give your child a way to express how they feel.
9) Mindfulness and time to breathe
When a child becomes upset, their breathing can become erratic and shallow, making it more challenging to deal with big emotions. At this moment, they are not processing with their logical left-brain, but their emotional right-brain. They are essentially in the well known ‘fight-or-flight’ stage of being. It can be almost impossible to communicate effectively as they physically and mentally do not have the resources to process information accurately. By teaching mindfulness techniques and breathing exercises, you give your child the time and space they need to calm down.
10) Safe ways to act on feelings
Here are some easy ways to help express those challenging feelings:
- Taking some deep breaths
- Asking a trusted adult for help
- Ask for a cuddle with a loved one
- Look at problem-solving. Can it be done differently?
- Instead of acting out, say or explain how you feel (which includes drawing a picture)
- Focus on a different activity before trying again
Shorter, more frequent conversations about emotions are proven to be more effective than longer chats more infrequently, and togetherAI can help your family with that.
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