Supporting Young Children’s Emotion Regulation Skills
Written by: ClarissaAlfes
What is emotional regulation
Emotion regulation is the ability to handle and control strong emotions and feelings, and the behaviors that come from them. Both adults and children regulate their emotions every day. Research shows when children build their emotion regulation skills they are better able to handle challenges, be resilient and succeed in school.
Emotion regulation is difficult to learn, especially for children! Many children can struggle with knowing how to handle the strong emotions they feel. When children have difficulty controlling their emotions, it can lead to challenging behaviors. Research suggests children benefit from being taught how to identify and manage their emotions. Adults can guide children through the practice of controlling their emotions and calming themselves in appropriate, safe and positive ways.
Ways to support children in building their emotion regulation skills:
Dr. John Gottman, author of Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, introduced the idea of Emotion Coaching, where parents support their children in building emotion regulation skills through:
• teaching young learners to understand their emotions
• encouraging children to talk about their emotions and feelings
• working through challenging situations that bring about strong emotions.
Here are ways to support your child in learning to recognize and manage their emotions:
1. Let them know their strong emotions are okay
• Validate their strong and negative emotions in a non-judgmental, calm way.
2. Label the emotions your child is feeling
• Use Emotion Coaching to listen to your child, name emotions they are feeling, and help them think through solutions for their problem such as sharing, saying sorry, asking for help, using a calm down strategy, etc.
• Narrating children’s emotions helps them to connect how they are feeling in their bodies to emotional vocabulary.
3. Engage them in activities that talk about emotions
• Read and discuss storybooks about emotions.
• Play emotion games, such as emotion bingo, emotion matching and situation card games.
4. Be an emotional role model
• Talk about your own emotions and talk through your emotion problem-solving. Children learn through watching and copying adults.
5. Teach them ways to calm down
• Teach calm down strategies and provide tools and physical spaces they can use to regulate by themselves. Use role play to practice these skills when children are calm.
• Do mindfulness breathing, meditation or yoga with your child.
• Teach children how to use an emotional thermometer to notice and think about how they are feeling.
Young children that learn emotional regulation skills are ready to recognize and handle upsetting emotions and take on challenges with resilient, calm and problem-solving mindsets.