Emotional regulation and self-regulation are terms that have somewhat become buzz words recently. They are terms that have certainly popped up quite a bit when it comes to parenting and teaching preschoolers. But what does “emotional self-regulation” mean? How do you encourage your preschooler to self-regulate and why is it important? These are the questions we hope to answer by sharing three tips to encourage emotional self-regulation in your preschooler!
Emotional self-regulation is the ability to effectively manage emotions and behaviors. The ability to self-regulate is also very dependent on the skills an individual child has to deal with stressors in their environment. Basically, how well can they handle emotions triggered by stressful events? Do they have a full meltdown when another child takes their toy? Or are they able to express their anger productively and act accordingly?
Anyone who has spent any amount of time with preschool-aged children knows that self-regulation is not typically a strength of their developmental phase. Preschoolers are prone to extreme outbursts of emotions, meltdowns, temper tantrums, whining, crying, you name it. Teaching preschoolers self-regulation may seem like a contradiction in light of this fact. But that’s exactly why it’s so important to teach them how to regulate their emotions! They lack these very important skills that they need to survive and thrive in life.
I am sure we can all think of an adult we know that never seemed to learn the skills for emotional self-regulation. It doesn’t lead to good things. That’s why it’s so important to help children develop these skills at a young age. It will only help them throughout life.
So how do you teach your preschooler to emotionally regulate? Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Model it yourself.
Hands down, the very best way a child learns to effectively manage their emotions is by watching how you handle yours. If you explode in anger or snapback with a sarcastic comment, they will too. If you respond with gentleness and kindness and speak encouraging words, they will learn to do the same. It’s one of those difficult truths to accept, but also necessary. This is a good opportunity to reflect, to hold the mirror up to your own self-regulation skills, and assess how you’re handling emotions and stress. What example is it setting for your child or student?
We all make mistakes and we often get this wrong more than we get it right. But even when you mess up, there is still an opportunity to model appropriate behavior. Acknowledge the mistake, express how you didn’t handle it right, apologize for your actions, and ask for forgiveness. Kids also need to learn what to do after they mishandle their emotions. So whether you handle your own emotions well or not, there is still an opportunity to teach great behavior!
- Help them identify what they feel.
A major step towards emotional self-regulation is accurately identifying what you feel. The next time your toddler gets upset about something that happens, help them identify what they’re feeling by narrating it for them. It is helpful to say things like “I see you’re frustrated that your toy was taken away” or “I see you’re upset that you can’t watch another episode of your favorite tv show.” Narrating their emotions helps them to link the name for that emotion with what they’re feeling, and it also helps them feel validated in their emotions. It helps them learn early on that emotions are not bad to feel. What they do with them is what matters!
Once they properly identify what they feel, they can find ways to cope and manage what they feel. If they feel sad they will do something different to help that feeling than if they feel angry. Identifying what they feel is the first step to knowing what to do about it!
- Help them build coping skills.
Once they can effectively identify their emotions, the next step is knowing what to do with that feeling. There are so many great ways for kids to cope with their emotions and that could probably be a stand-alone post. A few that you can start with though include taking deep breaths, counting to ten, clenching and releasing fists, squeezing a stress ball, or punching a pillow. The point is to find an activity they can use at the moment to work through the intensity of the emotion. If they can get through the intensity of the emotion, then they can think a little more rationally about an emotion. Then you can move to more complex coping skills.
When children can identify what they feel and have skills to cope with it, it gives them confidence in their ability to handle their environment. Overall, emotional self-regulation teaches children confidence and competence. They feel more capable of handling issues that arise because they are equipped with the proper tools.
It’s never too late to start using these tips! Emotional self-regulation is a skill that we can all grow in and this blog hopefully just serves as your reminder to be intentional with how you model and teach emotional regulation. At the Connection Point Early Learning Center, we are all about growing and developing at every phase!