Even as adults we sometimes struggle to control our emotions, particularly the more powerful ones like anger and fear; imagine how much harder it must be for children, without previous experience, or even the language to be able to explain what they are feeling.
What is Emotional Regulation?
Emotional regulation in children is the part of their growth and development where they learn to manage their own feelings, thoughts, impulses, and complex and challenging behaviours. A dysfunctional family of origin, trauma and abuse can all impact on their ability to regulate their emotions, even into the adult years.
Ideally, parents and carers are the ones to teach and support their children as they learn to self-regulate their emotions. However this can sometimes be a challenge for those from a difficult background, as it requires being able to manage one’s own emotions first – and then to respond to the child’s emotional needs. It involves being able to:
- understand your own emotions, and being able to communicate how you are feeling to the child;
- understand your child’s feelings, and responding to their emotional needs, when you are quite likely also feeling very emotional;
- being able to regulate your own emotions through controlling, expressing, and modulating in a culturally appropriate manner.
Why Does Emotional Regulation in Children Matter?
The ability to self-regulate is essential for healthy relationships and mental and emotional wellbeing in adulthood. It affects how we understand and then respond to situations.
Through emotional regulation, a child learns to become aware of their feelings and the appropriate ways to express them. Toddlers for example don’t yet have the words to express themselves verbally and may easily become overwhelmed by their feelings. Instead, they respond to their emotions through pain-based behaviours such as screaming, crying, tantrums, hitting, and destroying things.
An older child without the skills to self-regulate might manifest their emotions through challenging behaviours such as intentionally damaging the property of others, yelling, stealing, and lying, all of which will negatively impact their ability to get along with others.
By learning the skills required for emotional regulation, children are better able to handle stress, and to improve or re-establish their relationships with their parent / carer and peers. They develop resilience so that they are better able to cope with the challenging situations that life inevitably brings.
How to Help your Child with Emotional Regulation
As emotional regulation is crucial to relationships and wellbeing throughout our lives, how can parents help their children learn these skills?
There are several ways that you can support your children in learning emotional regulation, for example by:
- Being a role model, and considering how you handle your own emotions. What words and actions do you use when you are frustrated, upset, or excited?
- Consciously trying to understand your child’s perspective, and showing empathy;
- Taking your child’s emotions seriously;
- Providing structure and predictability (routine) to their days;
- Seeking out professional help if you recognise that your child is struggling to manage their emotions and consequent behaviour. An experienced counselling professional can provide valuable support and strategies for both your and your child, in developing these important skills.
Author: Vishal Patel, M Social Work, AASW, AMHSW.
Vishal Patel is an Accredited Mental Health Social Worker, with significant experience in working with victims of trauma, abuse and violence. His area of interest includes addressing significant complex and challenging behaviours in children under the age of 12 years. He is able to provide therapy in English, Gujarati, Hindi and Urdu.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3067 9129.