Don't be surprised, but small kids can have big emotions.  Sometimes, parents are caught off-guard by the sudden shift of their child's emotions.  Has that happened to you too?  One minute, your child is cheerfully playing with his toy, and then the next minute, he is crying his eyes out. 

The tantrums and acting out may equally be stressful for you and your child but don't worry.  These strong emotions are normal for young kids.  As adults, we have it too, right?  With your support, your child will learn how to self-regulate his/her big emotions.

Self-regulation is the ability to handle emotions, behavior, and impulses in the face of a difficult situation.  It is also the ability to focus on an activity or a task.  A child who can self-regulate knows how to calm himself when he feels big emotions such as anger, frustration, or embarrassment. This ability will help cope with the changes and stresses of adult life.

Why is it so vital to teach kids to self-regulate?

Angry little girl

Teaching kids how to manage their strong emotions early on will help them to:

·       Be aware of the things or situations that trigger big emotions

·       Learn new things because they will learn to focus better.

·       Act and behave in a socially-acceptable way.

·       Make and maintain friendships.

·       Be independent.

·       Manage stress and difficult situations.

·       Improve their problem solving and critical thinking.

Now that we have established the need to teach self-regulation to the kids, let's discuss self-regulation techniques and tips on how we can train our kids to manage their emotions.

How can I teach my children to self-regulate their emotions?

Asian mother calming daughter

1.    Assess and understand your child.

You have to re-align your expectations of your child.  Do not be frustrated if your toddler whines and throws things.  Remember that your child's brain is still developing, and he cannot calm himself yet.  It is not his intent to make you angry or frustrated.  He is still learning and discovering himself and his emotions.

Also, try to identify the stressors and situations that ticks him off.  Check your environment.  Perhaps your child is being overstimulated, and it is affecting his focus.  Check his things.  Are his toys appropriate for his age?  He may be getting frustrated because the toy he has is too advanced for his age?  Also, check if his routine is in place.  When your child is hungry, tired, or sleepy, it may manifest as tantrums and whining.

By understanding the triggers, you can provide the necessary support by adjusting and fixing the things or situations that irritate your toddler.    

2.    Listen to your child

Lend your ears to what your child has to say.  Hold off any judgments and stop yourself from dismissing his feelings. 

By listening to your child, you understand what he is feeling and the rationale behind the emotion.  As your child vents out, he releases his negative emotions.  This process will help him calm down and sort out his feelings.  Your child will also feel comfortable opening up to you because he feels you can empathize. 

3.     Acknowledge the feelings and label your child's emotions.

After hearing out your child's side, acknowledge his feelings.  Help your child be able to associate words to the emotions by labeling the feelings. Also, remember to empathize with your child's feelings.  For instance, you can say, "I know you feel sad because you cannot go out to play today. I understand how difficult you're feeling right now." Or " I understand you feel frustrated because you cannot piece the puzzle together. It seems that it gives you a difficult time."

Through labeling, your child increases his vocabulary.  Through practice, he will be able to describe and express his feelings with the appropriate word. 

4.    Talk about Emotions with your child.

It can be a short and straightforward conversation with your child.  You can ask her to identify the emotion based on your facial expression and body language.  You can discuss a character from a book, a magazine, a television show, or a movie.

5.    Use emotion charts or cards at home.

Emotion charts or cards are simple tools you can use at home to discuss and learn about feelings.  You can incorporate it during your breakfast or circle time at home.  There are free printables online you can download.  Here is a fun example with a robots theme from Emotion Flash Cards.  Printables are available in Dutch and English.

6.    Teach your child strategies he can use to manage his emotions.

There are different ways your child can manage his emotions.  He can choose what feels most natural and comfortable for him.  Here are some self-regulating activities you can teach your child to help him manage his big emotions.

-       Draw and Paint – Ask your child to divert his anger or frustration in his art.  It will give the child time to express and sort out his emotions.

-       Write a Story – Let your child write a story about what happened, or you can ask him to make a story of what he wishes happened.

-       Divert the Focus – You can ask your child to divert his emotion towards another activity like shooting a ball or bowling.

-       Mindfulness Activities – You can check out our Mindfulness Activities for Kids for a full list of mindfulness activities that you and your child can practice. 

7.     Help your kids see the bigger picture

If you have older kids, help them to step back to see the big picture.  You can ask your child to imagine that he is an audience of his movie.  Let him playback the situation that caused him to feel bad and then ask him questions to let him see the experience differently.

You can also ask him to put himself in another person's shoes.  This practice is a great way to teach empathy to your kids. 

8.    Play games

Playing games is a fun way to teach your kids to interact with other kids.  Your child will be able to practice taking turns, acknowledging defeat and experience winning.

Learning to self-regulate takes practice.  As your child grows, he will eventually learn how to manage his emotions regardless of the situation.  In case you still feel worried about your child's behavior, you can consult your pediatrician.

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