Do you have a child who finds it difficult to regulate their emotions? Many of us do.
I have three young children, all with such different personalities and temperaments and I’ve noticed that each has unique characteristics showing strengths and areas needing development. Regulating emotions is one of them. This I’ve found to be a key to harmony within the family; not only when at home but also outside the house while visiting or even running errands.
Rolston & Lloyd-Richardson define emotional regulation as: “a term used to describe a person’s ability to effectively manage and respond to an emotional experience”. This can be difficult for some children as they learn how to understand their emotions and deal with them on a daily basis.
A child unable to regulate their emotions can present in tantrums, anger, aggressive behaviour, tears and embarrassment. Often this can happen any time over seemingly small and insignificant events which, to us parents, can cause stress and our own embarrassment - particularly if it happens in public.
It makes me remember the time I was leaving a shopping mall and, at the exit, was a ‘Bob-the-Builder’ truck (one of those ones in which your child can sit it, you pay a couple of dollars and it bobbles around for a minute or two). As we were leaving, my then 4-year-old wanted desperately to have a go on the truck, I was refusing him and he had one of those melt-downs - just as a parent from the school walked up to say, ‘Good day! We’ve all been there, haven’t we?
Kidsmatter.edu.au states that children need adults to regulate their emotions. Children need repeated experiences of having their needs met by a responsive and caring adult to help them develop a positive sense of self and manage their emotions.
Kindsmatter.edu.au continues to explain; ”… this involves gently guiding children’s learning through steps to help them achieve something that they possibly may not be able to do on their own. Children learn self-control and appropriate emotional expression and behaviour by watching and experiencing how other people manage their emotions and from their own experiences of how others behave with them”.
I have found with my own children that demonstrating self-regulation of my own feelings and behaviours has been a powerful tool from which they can learn. A good example of this recently occurred while I was riding bicycles with my children in Manly.
My two eldest were just in front of me and I had their baby sister in a seat on my bike. We were, quite slowly and sensibly, riding along when two surfers stepped out in front of the two children in front. Then, as this happened, a man on a bicycle came from behind, swerved to miss my children and I and, quite unfortunately, fell off his bicycle. The man who fell, immediately turned to me and used abusive language about having to swerve out of the way to miss my children and blamed me for his fall. I kept my cool, asked the man if he was ok and made sure my children were safe too. He continued to attack my parenting. He was in such a state of shock that he would not listen to sensible conversation, he was struggling to regulate his emotions. Thankfully he was fine and finally rode on.
I used this episode to explicitly discuss and explain emotional regulation to my children by focusing their attention on the language I used in the situation and how I reacted to the man’s fall. I had a barrage of questions from my children after the event and took the opportunity to explain in detail how, and why, it’s important to regulate your emotions.
The key is to remember that we try to change from “feeling bad to feeling good” (www.kidsmatter.edu.au).
Helping children manage their emotions involves creating and maintaining feelings of safety, calm and optimism in children. This can often mean helping a child to move from a negative state into a positive state where they feel safe and calm and ready to move on.
In my experience there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.
Each of my children is so different, that while explicit explanation is excellent for one, modelling is more powerful for another. One child is great at regulating his emotions and the other has to work at it.
I always remember that I, as a parent, am here to support and nurture my children to become responsible adults who, even at this young age can make a positive difference in their world.
Andrew Thompson, Assistant Head of the Junior School
Coping skills for managing emotions (n.d.). Retrieved 19 June 2017 from www.kidsmatter.edu.au
Keeping a Balance (n.d). Retrieved 19 June 2017 from www.kidsmatter.edu.au
Rolston, A. & Lloyd-Richardson, E. (n.d). What is emotion regulation and how do we do it? Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery. Retrieved 19 June 2017 from http://www.selfinjury.bctr.cornell.edu/perch/resources/what-is-emotion-regulationsinfo-brief.pdf