Picture this: Mike and Nir are the only two kids from their grade who made the soccer team. When sharing the news with three of their friends, Mike and Nir receive three very different responses. Ariel congratulates them on making the team; she knows they worked hard throughout tryouts and cannot wait to cheer them on at games. Elisa is very happy for them but is concerned that they won’t have time to play with her because of this new commitment to the soccer team. And Danny? Danny is very jealous; he wants to play with Mike and Nir on the team.
Although each friend received the same news, they reacted in unique ways. As is illustrated repeatedly throughout life, the same situation can evoke different emotions in different people. When examining Danny’s reaction up close, it’s apparent that many negative thoughts are flooding his mind: “Will my friends have enough time for me?” “I can’t believe I didn’t make the team.” “I’m such a failure, no matter what I try.” “They won’t understand how I feel because they always get what they want.” “I’ll never be as good at soccer as Mike and Nir are.”
Danny focuses on the worst parts of this news; he thinks he lost his best friends and has no future in a sport he loves. A feeling of worthlessness takes over. He wrestles with the feeling of failure, unfairly compares himself to his friends, and sits in angry jealousy instead of finding happiness in their success. Danny is falling into a trap that everyone has experienced before. His perception of the event informs his response, which is exactly what humans experience when any specific event makes us feel a certain way.
Emotional regulation—the ability to manage and respond to an emotional experience in a socially acceptable manner—is a crucial life skill that children develop as they grow. This skill is pivotal to a child’s social development, academic success, and well-being. It is the foundation upon which many other life skills are built, including resilience, decision-making, and relationship-building. When critical skills, such as emotional regulation, are neglected in young children, they may be more likely to struggle with mental health challenges, becoming one of the 33% of children in the US who are diagnosed with ADHD, anxiety, behaviour problems, or depression.
In this article, we will delve into the importance of teaching emotional regulation to children. We will explore the role of parents and educators in this process, discuss strategies and techniques that can be employed, and examine the long-term benefits of fostering emotional regulation skills in children.
This article aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of emotional regulation in children and equip parents and educators with the knowledge and tools they need to teach this vital skill effectively. We will assess academic research and expert opinions to ensure the information presented is reliable and practical.
Stay tuned as we navigate this essential topic, shedding light on the significance of emotional regulation in children’s lives and how we, as adults, can facilitate their journey towards emotional maturity.
What is emotional regulation, and why does it matter?
Emotional regulation refers to the ability to manage and respond to an emotional experience effectively. It involves recognizing one’s emotional state, understanding the reasons behind these emotions, and expressing them in a manner that is both appropriate and beneficial to the situation at hand.
In children, a lack of emotional regulation can manifest in various ways, such as tantrums, mood swings, or difficulty in social interactions. These behaviours, if not addressed, can persist into adulthood, leading to more significant issues like poor mental health, relationship difficulties, and even career setbacks. As children age and move toward early adulthood, the prevalence of depression, anxiety, and behaviour disorders becomes much more common. This makes early childhood a critical time for developing emotional regulation and coping strategies.
Emotional regulation is a cornerstone of emotional health and overall well-being for all humans. It allows us to work through challenges with resilience, maintain healthy relationships, and make sound decisions even in emotionally charged situations.
Research has shown that children with strong emotional regulation skills are more likely to excel academically, have better social skills, and enjoy higher self-esteem. They are also less likely to engage in risky behaviours and more likely to grow into emotionally healthy adults.
When children cannot control their emotions in emotional situations, they may experience a pattern of chronic emotional dysregulation. This inability to regulate and organize emotions to produce an appropriate emotional response is more common in young children. Still, as children age, ideally, they become more emotionally mature and learn how to understand and express their emotions. Continuous emotional dysregulation is present in over 50% of the people who are hospitalized in relation to borderline personality disorder. To put it in perspective, that’s 4–6% of the total population.
Emotional regulation is an essential life skill for children and a critical determinant of their future happiness and success. For instance, people who are “happier” were found to have a reduced risk of stroke and other health issues.
What is the role of parents in emotional regulation?
Parents play a pivotal role in their children’s emotional regulation development. They are the primary socializing agents in their children’s lives, and their influence is paramount in shaping their children’s ability to manage emotions. Throughout a child’s life, his or her parents will be the ones to model emotional regulation, redirect emotional outbursts, and dictate the emotional experience within the household.
As the central model of emotional regulation for their children, parents play a critical role in childhood development. Children learn by observing their parents’ reactions to various situations. When parents handle their emotions effectively, their children begin to understand how to mimic that behaviour in their own lives. Conversely, parents struggling with emotional regulation may inadvertently teach their children unhealthy emotional habits.
As with most learned behaviours, parents provide direct instruction and guidance when it comes to emotional regulation. They help their children identify and understand their emotions, validate their feelings, and teach them appropriate ways to express these emotions. They also guide their children in developing problem-solving skills to cope with emotional challenges. Parents can use many tactics to help their children understand their feelings, respond appropriately, and move forward productively.
Lastly, parents create an emotional climate at home. A supportive and nurturing environment allows children to feel safe to express their emotions and encourages open communication. When immersed in a hostile or dismissive emotional climate, a child will struggle to master emotional regulation skills.
Experts agree that parents are instrumental in fostering their children’s emotional regulation skills. Their actions, reactions and the emotional environment they create can significantly impact their children’s emotional health and well-being.
Parent tips to teach emotional regulation
Teaching emotional regulation to children may seem daunting, but it can be achieved effectively with patience, consistency, and the right approach. Here are some practical tips for parents:
- Model Healthy Emotional Regulation: Show your children how to handle emotions by managing your own effectively. Express your emotions in healthy ways and use challenging situations as teachable moments.
- Validate Their Emotions: Acknowledge your child’s feelings and let them know it’s okay to feel the way they do. This validation helps them understand their emotions and the impact those emotions can have on their reactions.
- Teach Emotional Vocabulary: Help your child develop a rich emotional vocabulary. The more words they have to describe their feelings, the easier it will be for them to express and manage them.
- Encourage Expression of Emotions: Create a safe space for your child to express their emotions. Encourage them to talk about their feelings and reassure them that all positive and negative emotions are normal.
- Teach Coping Strategies: Equip your child with various coping strategies, such as deep breathing, counting to ten, or using positive self-talk. Practice these strategies together during calm moments so they can tap into them during emotionally-charged scenarios.
Remember, teaching emotional regulation is a process that takes time. Be patient with your child and yourself as you navigate this journey together.
Why as a parent I want my child to have the skills of emotional regulation?
Emotional regulation is more than just a tool for managing emotions at the moment; it’s a skill that can predict success in various aspects of life. In recent years, there has been a surge in research on this topic because it is widely recognized as a critical component of mental health and overall well-being.
Research has shown that children with strong emotional regulation skills are likelier to have successful social relationships. They are better equipped to handle conflicts, form healthy attachments, and navigate social dynamics. These skills translate into better teamwork and collaboration skills in their later years, which are highly valued in professional settings. In the academic realm, emotional regulation helps children focus, follow instructions, and engage in learning, leading to better academic performance. It also fosters resilience, enabling children to bounce back from setbacks and persist in facing challenges.
Further, emotional regulation is linked to better mental health outcomes. It reduces the likelihood of developing mental health disorders and promotes higher self-esteem and life satisfaction. People with moderate mental health challenges are more likely than their peers to deal with substance abuse issues and suicidal ideation and twice as likely to be unemployed.
As a parent, teaching your child emotional regulation skills is one of the most valuable gifts you can give. It’s not just about managing emotions; it’s about equipping your child with a skill set that will serve them well throughout their lives.
Emotional regulation is a vital life skill that significantly impacts a child’s social interactions, academic performance, and long-term well-being. As parents and educators, our role in fostering these skills in children is paramount. By modeling healthy emotional responses, validating their feelings, teaching them an emotional vocabulary, encouraging the expression of emotions, and equipping them with coping strategies, we can help them navigate their emotional world effectively.
The importance of emotional regulation extends beyond childhood. It predicts success in various aspects of life, including social relationships, academic achievements, and mental health. Therefore, investing in the emotional education of our children is not just about managing their current emotions but about setting them up for future success and happiness. In the US, the last decade has ushered in a 40% increase in young people dealing with hopelessness, persistent sadness, and suicidal thoughts. The time to reduce that ever-growing statistic is in childhood.
In conclusion, teaching emotional regulation is a journey that requires patience, consistency, and understanding. But the rewards – emotionally resilient children who grow into emotionally healthy adults – are well worth the effort.
Eisenberg, N., Spinrad, T. L., & Eggum, N. D. (2010). Emotion-related self-regulation and its relation to children’s maladjustment. Annual review of clinical psychology, 6, 495-525. https://doi.org/10.1080/13284207.2022.2155034