Chances are you’ve witnessed your child experiencing big emotions and not knowing what to do with them. Toddlers can often get overwhelmed when they’re in the learning phase of feeling these emotions. Being able to identify our emotions and effectively regulate them is important in creating healthy and well-adjusted individuals. In fact, the link between emotional regulation and psychopathology (such as depression) are becoming more and more prevalent in current research.
So, what is self-regulation? To put it simply, self-regulation is the ability to identify your current emotional/energy states and manage these, allowing you to produce positive behaviours and outcomes. For example, a child is trying to draw a face but they can’t. They may keep trying their best but are not able to produce the desired result. A child with the ability to self-regulate might notice that they’re feeling frustrated and ask for help, or might not get frustrated at all. A child who is struggling with self-regulation might get frustrated and begin to cry, get angry, and rip up the paper.
Here are our top ways to help children learn to self-regulate:
Talk the talk, walk the walk
Our children are constantly looking to us for guidance, which means they will mirror and imitate our actions. By modelling how to respond in emotional situations, we’re showing our children the correct way to react through ‘teaching moments’. They will learn to control their emotions in stressful situations if that’s what they’re observing in you when you’re in those situations.
Respond rather than react
When your child is struggling with a situation involving strong emotions, we can help them by responding in a composed manner. Let their moments of big emotion run their course. By calmly responding to their big emotions or outbursts, we are giving them permission to express these emotions and feelings without the shame or guilt which could fuel their reaction and make things worse.
Validate their feelings
By connecting to the emotional needs of our children, we can help them feel heard. Supportive words such as “I see you and I hear you” or “I understand that you’re feeling angry” are powerful for your little ones and will help them recover from the overwhelming emotions faster. By listening to their worries, we validate that what they’re feeling matters.
Don’t take it personally
It’s important to understand that your child’s big emotions and meltdowns are not about you. By taking a bird’s eye view, we can remove ourselves emotionally and not bring our own feelings to the table. Instead, bring your calmness to the table so that you’re helping your child to self-regulate.
Understand where your child is coming from emotionally
Ask yourself - does my child need my comfort, reassurance, attention or validation right now? By understanding where your child is emotionally, you can meet them where they’re at and be the role model that they need in that particular moment.
Reinforce and praise
If you witness your child self-regulating in a tricky situation, make sure that you point it out and praise them. We need to reinforce their hard work! Try using phrases like:
- “I saw how hard you tried”
- “I liked the way you waited your turn”
- “You were being very generous when you shared your toys”
Using positive feedback will encourage them to repeat the positive behaviour.
In summary, we can use our children’s big expression of feelings as wonderful teaching moments. These can be used to guide them with positive assurance. Self-regulation is like a muscle; the more we practice using it, the more developed it will become.