Why is it difficult for some kids to manage their emotions? How to cultivate emotional regulation in children? Read on to know some parenting tips to help your kids learn to control emotions.
“I love your posts, but my husband is afraid that if we allow our kids to get upset as you suggest, they’ll never learn to control their emotions. Don’t we need to just say No sometimes?” – Rachel
All of us worry about our kids learning to control their emotions. After all, it’s emotions that so often get us off track and into trouble. And of course, we need to just say No sometimes. Kids can’t run into the street, throw their food at each other, or pee on their baby brother.
But setting limits on children’s behavior doesn’t mean we need to set limits on what they feel. In fact, when we don’t “allow” our child to get upset, we’re unwittingly making it harder for our child to learn to manage his emotions.
That’s because you can’t actually keep your child from getting upset, whether you “allow” it or not. Telling your child not to cry won’t keep him from being upset; it will just give him the message that there’s something scary or shameful about his emotions, so he’d better try to hide them.
Unfortunately, when humans repress emotion, those emotions are no longer under conscious control. So they pop out un-regulated, causing the child to lash out or act out.
It’s that dysregulation that scares parents when our child seems completely out of control. But kids don’t get dysregulated because we “allow” their emotions. They get dysregulated when they need to express emotion but feel they “aren’t allowed to.”
So, instead, they try to push the feeling down. That may work at the moment, but it makes kids tense and anxious and demanding and whiney. And eventually, those repressed feelings that are no longer under conscious control bubble up to the surface and explode, resulting in behavior that is even more out of control.
So, denying emotion or making ourselves wrong for having emotions doesn’t help us control them.
Here’re 7 Parenting Tips For Emotional Regulation In Children
Notice that all the action items start with what “WE” — the parents — do.
1. We Model Self-Regulation.
That means that we resist our own little “tantrums” such as yelling. Instead, we take a parent time-out to calm ourselves down. If our child is too young for us to leave the room, we do as much processing at other times as we can, so we can stay calmer while we’re with our kids.
Then, at the moment, we slow things down and take responsibility for how we express our emotions. After all, children learn from us. When we yell, they learn to yell. When we speak respectfully, they learn to speak respectfully. Every time you model in front of your child how to stop yourself from acting badly when you’re angry, your child is learning emotional regulation. Practicing self-regulation will help you cultivate emotional regulation in children naturally.
Please note that I’m not suggesting that you should “stuff” or repress your emotions. That would just make them harder to control! I’m suggesting that you handle emotions responsibly, by noticing the feelings and tolerating them — but NOT taking action.
Every time you do that, you’re strengthening your neural networks to manage your emotions. That’s exactly how we’re trying to teach emotional regulation for kids. And of course, we need to be role models.
(Not perfect yet? Don’t worry. Most of us are still working on this. In fact, it’s the work of a lifetime. Just keep taking steps in the right direction.)
2. We Prioritize A Deep Nurturing Connection.
Babies grow the neural wiring to soothe themselves by being soothed by their parents. But even older children need to feel connected to us or they can’t regulate themselves emotionally. When we notice our child getting dysregulated, the most important thing we can do (after calming ourselves) is to try to reconnect.
When kids feel that we’re on their side, even when we need to say no to them, they WANT to cooperate — so that warm, delighted connection eliminates a lot of “misbehavior.”