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  • Writer's pictureAshley

How to Teach Your Child Emotional Regulation

Updated: Jan 8, 2022



Let’s face it, we all know an adult who isn’t very capable of handling their big emotions. It may be road rage, flying off the handle when stressed out, or even being an incredibly sore loser when their favorite football team loses. If adults struggle to regulate their emotions sometimes, how can we possibly ask our kids to regulate theirs?


The answer is very easy… those adults may not have been taught good emotional regulation strategies and coping skills when they were younger, leading them to really struggle as adults. Just like with most things, the earlier we start building good habits with our kids, the better set up they are for future struggles, successes, and everyday life.


It is totally possible and very necessary to teach kids emotional regulations strategies. However, we have to remember that feelings can be huge and we must give our kids (and ourselves) grace whenever we mess up or fall short of expectations. Teaching your child emotional regulation strategies takes time, persistence, and practice.


Basics


First, let’s take a look at the basics that everyone needs to know when they want to teach their children emotional regulation skills.


Practice before there is a problem - It can be so tempting to point out to kids what they are doing and how to change it in the middle of an issue. We tend to think they will rationalize what we are saying to them in real-time. They don’t.


Think of an adult who is screaming at the TV after a ref makes a bad call. What happens when you look at them and say, “You are angry. You are yelling at a TV that can’t hear you. You need to calm down.” Would that work for them? The answer is no, and make sure you move out of their swinging radius before they hit you!


Jokes aside, our brains aren’t rationalizing when we are in pure emotional response mode. So, in order to teach kids, we have to do it BEFORE there is a problem.


Lessons, discussions, and activities need to be taught, discussed, and practiced when things are calm; before a problem occurs, and after everything has calmed down.

Some things work for some kiddos while others do not- As you decide what skills and strategies to teach your children, remember that not every strategy will work for every kiddo. Just like most everything else, your children will probably have different strategies that work for them. This is totally ok. Use trial and error. Teach them things, see how they work, and if not successful, teach something else. It’s a matter of personal response and preference.


Visuals are your friend - Especially when your child is melting down or having a rough time, try to use more visuals than words. Often times words will cause more harm than good. Introduce visuals such as breathing, walking away, calm places, etc. while you are working with them in calm moments and when the chance comes to use those skills and tools, use the visuals to prompt them.


Types


Now let’s look at several types of emotional regulation that you can work through and try. Each one is important and combined together gives your children a toolbox of skills and strategies.


Identify emotions - The first step in helping children to work through emotions is learning what those emotions are. Get a good chart of lots of different emotions and their facial expressions. Talk to kids about the different emotions and feelings on the chart, what their body looks and feels like when they feel them, and help them name those emotions in the moment.


When they are excited to go to grandma’s house, name that emotion and describe how you know that. “I see that you are excited. I know you are excited because your body has extra energy, you are smiling a lot, and talking about wanting to go a lot.”


Labeling and describing the emotion in the moment helps children identify what those abstract emotion words mean and how to identify when they experiencing them.

Don’t forget to point out your own emotions and responses. “I’m feeling nervous right now. My stomach feels a little upset, I feel hot, and I’m thinking of things that might go wrong. I know this is what nervous feels like.”


Practice tools - I did not come up with the visual of a toolbox of strategies. I have adapted it from the Toolbox found in the Zones of Regulation curriculum for emotional regulation. My school practices this program and it really does work for kids. If you are interested, go to YouTube and look up Zones of Regulation.


I love the idea of finding strategies that work for a child and then putting those into a visual toolbox. That way when they need to find a strategy to use in the moment, they can head to their toolbox, make a choice, and be in control!


Remember that nothing in the toolbox should be new or unfamiliar to children when they are in the heat of the moment. Everything should be discussed and practiced before those moments arise.


Mindfulness - Mindfulness practices are another great way to prepare your child for moments when things get tough. Through mindfulness practices, you can prepare for those moments through visualization (practicing in their minds), or the practices can be used as a tool in the toolbox.


Ways to Practice


Now it’s time to really work on those skills. I promise it’s a lot easier and less intimidating than it may sound. Discussing and practicing sound formal but it doesn’t have to be. See some easy ways below.


Visuals


As I mentioned before, use visuals! Here is a monster chart, real kids body chart, or emoji flipbook. Another option is to make a family emotion chart. As you learn about different emotions have your children or any member of your family take a picture of their face and/or body when it is feeling that emotion. Add these to your family emotions chart. Here’s the tricky part: If you use all members of your family and your child is having an issue with that member, the picture of them on the chart may increase the feeling in the moment.


You will also need visuals for the tools your child is learning and placing in their toolbox. You can find premade visuals, however, I suggest making them real-life pictures your child will remember. If the strategy is to go to a calm-down corner, take a picture of that corner. If the strategy is to swing in the backyard, take a picture of your swing. The use of real-life objects or strategies in the visuals will create more of a connection when children are having a hard time.


Stories


There are tons and tons of books available on the topic of emotions and emotional regulation. Do a quick Amazon search, library catalog search, or even just a Google search and you can find a book about almost any emotion. Some are written for younger or older children, but even older children will appreciate hearing a story meant for younger readers if the message is applicable.


Read the stories, perhaps more than once, discuss real-life connections, talk about how problems were solved in the story, and keep going back to the ones that your children really connect with. If you want, use visuals from the stories themselves for your children.


Books and stories allow our kids to connect to abstract and difficult material in ways that nothing else can. I truly believe that books are the absolute best way to discuss and learn about things.


Apps


Using technology is another great way to teach children about emotions and regulation. Typically, there is a pretty high engagement rate for technology and kids! So give it a try.


Some of the apps that I know of are WonderGrade, Calm Kids, The Zones of Regulation, and Stop, Breath & Think. I believe that all of these apps do cost money. This is not the end of the list. You can search and find what works best for your children.


YouTube Videos

I mentioned earlier that you can find a lot of free information about the Zones of Regulation on YouTube. You can also find songs, stories, mindfulness practices, and even story read alouds on there, too. It’s worth looking into due to its cost.


Games


There are so many games! Some are geared to younger children, while others are more appropriate for older children. While the content may be ok for younger children, the skills for the game may not be there yet. Getting the whole family involved is a great way to have honest conversations and help everyone to learn about their own choices.


If you can’t find a game that looks right, try making your own. You can create it out of poster board and markers or you can repurpose an old CandyLand or Shoots and Ladders. Have your children help with the creation!


Roleplay


This is strategy is one of the absolute best for getting children to understand how and when to use the skills you are teaching them. Have fun practicing with just the two of you or get the whole family together. Again, whatever works best for your child. I suggest roleplaying frequently. If your child is learning about frustration, do a quick roleplay every day and practice using skills and strategies for different situations that may frustrate them. Keep doing this until your chosen tools are second nature. This will help them to choose those strategies when they are not in control.



Final Reminders


Remember that these skills are ones that will be carried by your children into adulthood, but mastering them will take time and repetition. They will mess up and fall short of what you are have practiced and that is a great way to keep practicing until the skills become more natural for them.


Make sure your children know that you have seen them using their tools and skills and that you are proud of them for doing so. Wait until everything is calm and then mention that you saw them use their tool of deep breathing and you are proud that they were able to make a smart choice for themself.


Model, model, model. Your children will pick up on things much faster if they see you doing them, too. Narrate as you use your own skills and tools. “I’m feeling frustrated right now. I don’t want to yell so I am going to walk away and take some deep breaths. I will return when I am calm.” If you don’t use healthy coping strategies, your children probably won’t either.


So there you have it. A brief overview of how to teach your child emotional regulation. It sounds tricky and overwhelming but it’s really not. It’s a lot of intentional conversations, story reading, strategy learning and practicing, and reflection. It can be done in moments a day, in fun and engaging ways. Commit to helping your child develop emotional regulation skills early, and you see a definite payoff as they get older.


What activities do you use to teach your child emotional regulation?

Are you looking for specific activities that are fun and engaging? Download my FREE guide that includes 9 examples of practicing skills in ways that children will love! You don't want to miss it.








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