Emotional regulation is the ability to manage the way in which we respond to our feelings. It is a complex task which begins in infancy and continues into our adult lives. Here’s how you can help your child to develop this important skill.
Why is emotional regulation important?
Ultimately a child’s ability to regulate their emotions contributes to the development of emotional intelligence (also known as EQ). It helps them to deal with life’s ups and downs, resolve conflict with their peers and experience lower levels of physiological stress. It also enables them to empathise with those around them.
How does emotional regulation take place?
Unlike physical development, emotional development is not a natural process and children need to be taught how to regulate their emotions. It requires that they learn what emotions are and why and how their emotions develop. It is also important that they understand the feelings of others and learn how emotions can be expressed in constructive rather than harmful ways.
What can you do?
As a parent, you play a very important role in teaching your little one how to regulate their emotions. You might do this unintentionally, but each time you respond to your child’s emotions, talk to them about how they feel or tell them about your own feelings, you contribute to their emotional development in a significant way.How does your child’s age affect their emotions?
During the toddler years, the frontal lobes and limbic circuit in your child’s brain matures rapidly and this is often the reason they act defiantly or have the temper tantrums you are all too familiar with.
Infants are particularly emotional beings. They cry when they are uncomfortable, smile when they are happy and laugh out loud at things that amuse and surprise them. Initially babies follow the emotions of their caregivers very closely and reflect these, but as they get older, they develop a sense of self and their emotions develop independently from those of others.
Remember, it is important that you teach your child to accept all their emotions. Try not to label positive emotions as good and negative ones as bad. Tell them that it is perfectly okay for them to feel whichever emotion they are feeling. However, they have to understand that only certain responses to these feelings are acceptable. With a parent’s help, a child can learn to control impulses and find appropriate ways of expressing their feelings.
As their language skills improve, they get better at communicating their thoughts, needs and desires. As they learn to identify their emotions, you can help them put a name to the emotion they are expressing. You can say: “I can see you are feeling very angry at your friend for taking your toy away from you.”
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Click on the age group below for age-appropriate activities to do with your child to help them regulate their emotions: