Helping Children Regulate Emotions

Our ability to regulate our emotions has been greatly tested over the past 9 months.  As we parents have struggled to manage and express our day to day feelings during this pandemic, we have likely also experienced our children wrestling  with this same issue.  Self regulation is an absolute necessary part of development.  In fact, our ability to self regulate our emotions contributes to our very sense of comfort and safety in the world.


During this challenging time, parents may be asking themselves how they can help their  children manage the day to day stressors and effectively regulate emotions.  As caregivers, we can consider the following strategies.. 


Label feelings:  Parents can help children improve their emotional vocabulary.  The act of naming a feeling lends to our ability to express and modulate that feeling. Telling a child, “Wow, that looks really frustrating.  I wonder if you are feeling angry?,”  can be validating and calming. Often, children do not have the words to express their feelings and this can be extremely frustrating.  


Model expressing your own feelings:  Children learn best by observing.  By sharing that we also feel frustrated or overwhelmed, we can acknowledge our own negative feelings and model ways to express them.  Parents can engage children in activities to promote relaxation and mental health such as exercise, scheduled down time, and healthy sleeping and eating habits.  


Validate and normalize feelings:  Feeling disconnected from friends and family is a normal response to our quarantine.  Validating these feelings in our children can be reassuring.  Letting your child know you realize the quarantine is difficult assures them that their feelings are valid and normal. 


Identify triggers for frustration:  By helping children to identify challenging situations, we can help them to regulate accompanying emotions.  If children can identify stressors such as a test or a performance, they can better manage their emotions in a self reliant way.   


Every day, we parents take small steps to promote independence and self reliance in our children.  Learning to effectively regulate emotions is an important part of this process.  By empowering children to recognize and express their own feelings in a healthy way, we are giving our children the necessary tools to self regulate emotions.  As we have all experienced during the past several months, this ability is crucial to our well being.