It’s important to start early when it comes to teaching your children how to emotionally regulate, says Jacob Baranski, father of three. Emotional regulation is the ability to have control over one’s emotional state, according to Psychology Today. It may involve behaviors such as re-thinking how one would act around a challenging situation to reduce anger, fear and anxiety. It’s basically having a hold on your emotions — yet it’s also important to not suppress emotions and show our kids that having various emotions is normal and OK. We want to be aware of our emotions, but be in control with how we express them, especially around other people. And while kids are young and throwing tantrums is natural, it’s helpful to teach them how to understand their needs and emotions so they feel better and know themselves better, everyday. As a result, the tantrums will become less common.
So, how do you emotionally regulate? Let’s start with how parents can emotionally regulate themselves.
1- Teach yourself emotional regulation, first
Chances are, your parents may have never taught you how to recognize and manage your emotions as a kid, so you may not even know to this day how to emotionally regulate — and that’s ok!
Here’s a simple practice: the next time an uncomfortable feeling arises (ex. You get impatient, frustrated, loney, sad, angry)…pause and create some space. Take a breath and notice how you feel. Name it. Once you’ve identified the emotion, accept that it’s here. By practicing mindfulness, you can identify and reduce triggers by tuning into physical symptoms you may have. And lastly, consider the story you are telling yourself about the situation. Is it true? Can you shift your story, even a little bit? Is there a fresh perspective to be learned?
When you show up calm, cool and collected, your child will pick up on this and feel better and more calm within him or herself.
2- Teach your kids how to self-regulate
You’ll want to make this process for kids as simple and fun as possible. Jacob Baranski practices this ‘zone of regulation’ game with his kids. He has a chart on the door with four categories/colors:
Blue: sick, sad, tired, bored
Green: calm, happy, focused
Yellow: frustrated, worried, willy, can’t sit still
Red: Mad, yelling, out of control
This daily check-in helps to get to know his kids better, their wants and needs, and the kids themselves learn how to self-regulate by simply being aware of how they feel — and what they need in the moment to feel better if they’re experiencing unpleasant emotions.
If your child gets out of control often, consider learning (together) yoga, meditation, breathing exercises and games and practices they can do to calm down. Stay calm as best you can while they’re throwing a tantrum or acting out of control so it doesn’t feed the fire. And, make sure to deeply listen to what it is they’re frustrated about.
For kids, try this breathing exercise by Roxana Bermudez, a mental health therapist at Children’s Bureau.
Imagine a lemon in each of the palms of your hands. Take a deep breath in, and imagine you are squeezing all of the juice out of the lemon in your palms. Count three seconds, then take a deep breath out, release your hands and exhale. Repeat as many times as you need until your child feels calm.
Emotional regulation isn’t just about controlling wild emotions, it’s also being respectful and aware of all the varying emotions we as humans experience. When we teach our kids that emotions come and go, and to not attach to them, simply observe them, they will be much more well-adjusted emotionally throughout their entire lives.