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Emotional Self-Regulation

Basic temperaments children have at birth influence how they behave and may change as kids mature. As they grow up, most children learn how to manage their emotions. When they begin to feel too angry or hurt, they learn to say to themselves, “Calm down, chill out—this doesn’t have to be such a big deal.”. If they’re getting too discouraged trying to do something, they might be able to tell themselves, “OK, that doesn’t look like it’s going to work. I’ll try again, or I’ll try to find a better way to deal with it.”

Children who struggle with emotional self-regulation don’t have the same capacity to manage their emotions as other kids their age. They have less ability to react to their own emotions using their brain’s reasoning powers. It takes longer for them to gain the ability to calm down and get perspective, so they’re more likely to get too wrapped up in their own emotions.

When children have trouble managing their emotions, it can show up in different ways. Some might have trouble keeping control of their feelings when they’re angry or stressed about something. Others might struggle to get excited to do something when they’re feeling bored.

Children who struggle to self-regulate their emotions might:

  • Be quick to get frustrated by minor annoyances

  • Worry too much or too long about small things

  • Have trouble calming down when they’re annoyed or angry

  • Feel wounded or take offense at gentle criticism

  • Feel excessive urgency to get something they want now

If your child shows some of these emotional self-regulation challenges, then one of our experienced team members can help. Contact us for more advice or support.

Some of our favourite activities or strategies to develop emotional self-regulation are:

  • Acknowledge their feelings Help your child describe their feelings. Emotions can feel more manageable when kids know how to describe their feelings.

  • Once they are calm, offer to help them figure out a better way to deal with that emotion in a way that may help switch their thinking. (is there a shorter way of saying this?)

  • Help your child answer these questions: what went wrong, and why, and how they can fix it next time.

  • Keep track of the times your child had difficulties managing their emotions to help identify different triggers influencing these situations. Keep a diary/ shorter way??

  • If getting out the door in the morning is causing meltdowns, target one step at a time. First, say, getting dressed by 7:15. Once they’ve mastered that, set a target time for breakfast, and add that. Breaking the chain into small steps allows them to build self-regulation skills in manageable increments.

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