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Child Emotional Self-Regulation, Explained

Regulating our emotions may seem easy to us as adults (most of the time anyway!), but it's not easy for little ones. That's why it's important to teach them.

“Emotional regulation” is a catch-all term used to talk about how we balance our emotions, how we express and understand them, and especially how we handle the experience. It’s what makes us not lash out at everyone, and instead employ the right behavior for the situation. As an adult, it’s easy to view emotional self-regulation as something innate within us that we learn automatically. It’s certainly a very important skill to have, but it’s one we nurture. As parents, it’s important to encourage it the right way, and many of us have learned bad emotional self-regulation habits too. Being able to help your children regulate their emotions is very important, not only for childhood, but also for their entire life. Today, Team Snorble has some tips to help you get on the right path.

What is Emotional Self-Regulation For Children?

Think of a toddler tantrum. All those big emotions they can’t process or entertain can change the mood of a whole room, right? Family, friends, you… it’s amazing how quickly you can get sucked into a bad mood just because someone with you is in one. Even a very little person. Life only gets more stressful, right? Now think of that friend you have who can always focus and cope instead of getting lost in their emotions. Where you start yelling or crying, they’ve already calmly moved on to solving the problem. No spraying emotions around the room as your toddler does!

What’s the difference? Your friend has learned emotional regulation. Your toddler needs your guidance to get there.

Key Components to Emotional Self-Regulation For Children

Your child won’t magically evolve into that calm and capable friend just because they get older. Especially if you aren’t modeling positive behaviors that way. On the other hand, if you start teaching your toddler age-appropriate lessons on how to properly channel those big emotions now, they’ll build on it as they age. Plus, it’s easier to learn as children, with no bad habits to undo. This will set them up for a lifetime of success, in relationships, academically, and at work.

Relationships with Peers

Peer groups matter a lot during childhood. Sometimes, your child’s friends may have more influence than you do. So a child needs to learn how to regulate their emotions around friends, and how to ‘play nice’ with others.

Relationship with Family

Family is critically important in childhood development. What happens inside the home, what you model as acceptable interpersonal relations, and the environment your child grows in is critical. Teaching them how to manage emotion so they are easy to deal with in the family helps bolster this. Make sure older family members and people who aren't your child's parenting team don't override the learning process, demand the child does things their way not your way, or expect far too much from a little person taking their first big emotional steps. It's OK for your little one to need to learn this, and it's OK to parent your way!

Educating a Child About Emotions

When a child is taught about their emotions at an early stage, they tend to understand more and build better emotional self-regulation skills for the future. This means teaching them about their feelings and emotions, how to express them, when to express them, why you experience them, and how to handle them is very important in a child's overall development too.

How to Teach Children Emotional Self-Regulation

Children who can cope with life’s hurdles will feel happier and healthier. And it’s a skill that will get easier with practice. You as the parent should set up learning opportunities and actively engage with them to create this. Punishment won’t teach a child anything about emotional self-regulation. It teaches them you get angry and scary for ‘no reason’, and it teaches them to fear emotion- the opposite of regulation. Instead, why not try these top tips instead?

3 Ways to Improve Emotional Self-Regulation in Children

Children seem ‘dramatic’ because emotion is new to them and they don’t have a self-regulation toolkit yet. Sometimes they can’t handle those big emotions. Luckily, they have you to guide them to better coping strategies. Here’s three ways to help:

Method #1 - Label and Teach Feelings

What you understand, you can process. If a child only ever learns about anger, they will label all big, fierce, and strong emotions “anger.” If they only ever see rage and lashing out, that's how they will handle that anger. If, however, they know that frustration, sadness, fear, irrationality, annoyance, and so on all exist, then they can better decide how they feel and how to respond. If they have help to decide how to respond calmly to that feeling, they can choose to do so appropriately. Awareness of emotion is a key first step to emotional regulation. Develop their emotional vocabulary with them, and allow emotions and feeling them to be normal in your house.

Method #2 - Behavior Interventions

Again, this doesn’t mean punishment! That teaches suppression, not regulation. Instead of allowing a meltdown to flounder, intervene with a neutral-to-positive framework that encourages exploration and growth. Ask them to identify how they feel and work through it with them. Be supportive and encouraging. It may need some creativity to find a way to explain emotions with your child in a way that works for them, but once you know how they ‘tick’, it will be easier.

Method #3 - Practice what you preach

Sorry parents, but this is critical. Your child learns through modeled behavior. We know adult life is hard and packed with stress. We also have the utmost sympathy if you were taught to suppress or lash out emotionally. Times have changed a lot in child-rearing, and mostly for the better.

But you’re a parent now, and you can help your child learn all the things you deserved as a little one. It’s not just in how you handle your child directly, either. All the patient talk in the world won’t do much if they regularly see you lash out, scream, yell, berate others, fight, and always go straight to anger and disproportionate responses. Hey, at least you have your little one as an excuse to put some better personal behavior in place, right?

An Introduction to Snorble®

Luckily, you can have Snorble on your team. They will help your child and you explore a world of mindfulness and soothing behaviors together. Snorble is centered around the child the entire time, creating holistic experiences that champion health and wellness. Through teaching meditation, yoga, and other mindfulness exercises, Snorble can encourage your child to move away from being lost in the big emotion and handle it more appropriately. From there, you can use your strategies to further develop an appropriate response.



Photo by Zachary Kadolph on Unsplash


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