8 Smart Ways to Teach Children Emotional Regulation

By Kara Reynolds

Guest Writer for Wake Up World

Do your child’s public tantrums leave you hesitant to go to the grocery store? You’ve probably noticed by now that the words “calm down” do little to relax an overwrought toddler.

If you want a less stressful parenting experience, teaching your children to identify and manage their feelings is vital. Here are eight smart ways to teach your children emotional regulation and help them succeed in life.

1. Work It Out

People often talk about the fight-or-flight response to stress, but in reality, folks respond to perceived threats in one of four ways: fight, flight, freeze or fawn. You probably employ the freeze response when receiving a workplace reprimand — it’s similar to how a rabbit plays dead in hopes that an inescapable hungry wolf decides it prefers fresh meat.

If you watch that bunny once the danger passes, you’ll see it start to shake. It does so to dispel the nervous energy that comes from the neurotransmitter and hormonal cocktail the body releases under stress. In humans, these substances can lead to erratic and frustrating behavior — like tantrums.

Take a hint from the rabbit and encourage physical activity to help your little one release overwhelming emotions. Play gives your child a non-destructive way to dissipate their nervous energy instead of breaking or destroying things. Make the playground your second home, and let your toddlers run, skip and jump.

2. Act It Out

Guess what? Playing charades doubles as physical activity. It also provides an outlet for your children to understand their emotions and express them in healthy ways.

Why not invest in a feelings chart or print a free one online and use it for your game? Select an emotion and have your child act out how someone experiencing it would behave. Use the teachable moments that arise to say things like, “Is there a better way to express anger besides throwing things?”

3. Puppet Play

When your child has to manage “big feels,” it might help to use toys to process their emotions. Break out their dolls or make some simple puppets so that they can act out whatever is upsetting them through surrogate play.

As your child to perform their play for you. After the show, discuss ways that the characters could handle their emotions differently.

4. Shake It Up

As a grownup, you know how challenging it is to make decisions when you feel emotional. Children don’t automatically recognize how their feelings cloud their judgment. Show them with this activity.

Take a jar and fill it with water and confetti. Shake it up like a snow globe, explaining to your child that powerful emotions make their brain murky like the liquid in the container. Watch the confetti gradually settle while explaining how pausing instead of reacting impulsively to feelings can lead to better choices.

5. Write a Note

You can’t take back hurtful words once you speak them. You also don’t want your child to learn this lesson the hard way.

To remind them to be gentle with others, have them write a note full of mean words the next time they get angry, then crumple it up. Ask them to straighten out the letter, observing how it never goes back to its previous smoothness. Explain that other people’s emotions are like the paper when you say something mean — you can apologize, but you still leave a wound.

6. Count to Ten

Psychologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl describes genuine freedom as the pause between an external stimulus and how you choose to react to it. However, human beings are wired to interact with the world around them — you have to train your children to stop and think before responding.

Whenever you see your child about to act impulsively, remind them to stop and count to ten. Better yet, let them see you model this behavior when you feel ready to snap in frustration — kids imitate what you do far more than they follow the words you say.

7. Darth Vader Breath

If you tell your 2-year-old, “practice ujjayi breathing,” they’ll probably look at you like you have lobsters for ears. What?

Yoga techniques work for all ages, but you have to make them kid-friendly. Introduce your children to how deep breathing can calm anxious feelings by having them take Darth Vader breaths, inhaling deeply, then releasing a long, echoing exhale.

8. Pillow Talk

Even as an adult, you undoubtedly experience times when you feel like you need to scream or throw something to keep from going insane. Your children can become just as overwhelmed with powerful emotions, and they don’t have the impulse control you do.

However, you have to teach them that it isn’t okay to vent in ways that can hurt other people. Instead, have them grab a pillow and scream into it as loud as they wish, pressing it to their face to keep the neighbors from worrying. If the mood strikes, a spontaneous pillow fight is another way to blow off steam without causing harm, although you might have to vacuum some flying feathers afterward.

Teach Your Children Emotional Regulation These Eight Smart Ways

Learning emotional regulation is critical to your child’s ultimate success in life — and helps you stay sane as a parent. Please use these eight smart methods to help your little one deal with their feelings.

Also by Kara Reynolds:

About the author:

Kara Reynolds is the Editor-in-Chief and founder of Momish Magazine.  Mom, stepmom, and wife – Kara wants to normalize big blended families. She enjoys pilates, peanut butter, and pinot grigio – but not at the same time.

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