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No matter the stage of development, all of us experience a range of emotions daily. Emotions are often what bond us as humans, and are an integral part of a child’s social relationships. The ability to regulate our emotions is often a learned skill that many times requires practice and awareness. Each individual may use different strategies to best regulate their own emotions. Overall, this ability is defined as the practice of monitoring the emotions you feel, and modulating your reaction and expression appropriately. This can be a difficult skill for any person and can be especially challenging for a developing child.
When a child is given the tools to recognize, monitor, and modulate their emotions they are best equipped for performance in school and within social peer interaction. Many parents recognize emotional outbursts or ‘tantrums’ that their child may elicit, but fail to understand why this may happen, and how they can best support their child. When a child frequently experiences emotions and does not understand what they are feeling, they can present with anger, aggression, or social withdrawal.
It is important to remember that this expression is common and that it is helpful to recognize it as an opportunity to implement helpful emotional regulation strategies. This practice does not involve suppressing negative feelings, or only recognizing positive ones. It rather encourages identifying emotions, and creating support strategies to work through them in a positive way.
Let’s break down how our bodies even create a ‘feelings’ response and work from there to best explain how we can help children regulate. Our brain regulates with help from two parts of our nervous system. One part of this system activates our ‘fight-or-flight’ response, while the other helps us gain a calm and controlled state. When these systems work efficiently together, we are able to produce controlled responses. When one of these systems are over or under activated the response is often a visible dysregulated response. To best encourage a balance in these systems there are strategies that parents can implement within their relationship with the child.
First, model a regulated system yourself-- take time to master what regulation in your own body looks like, and practice a calm state in front of your children. Create a positive and calm environment in your home, and expose your children to environments that are similar.
Second, work to maintain a responsive and warm parenting style. It will help your child regulate when they perceive you to have a regulated and calm response style. Working to continuously validate your child’s emotions can help them to recognize them when they occur and help them feel safe to communicate their needs.
Finally, guide your child to discover what works best to help them regulate. This can look like finding the link between situation and emotion and talking about it, or incorporating meditation and breathing techniques to positively self-soothe. There is never a perfect way to harness emotional regulation, but continual practice and self- awareness leads to positive outcomes for both parents and children.
Contact us at Roots to Thrive for continual support in this crucial area of development, and for guidance in additional strategies for emotional regulation.
By Pamela Li