Emotional regulation is the ability to identify and respond to our own emotions as well as other people’s. Here are some of my favorite emotional regulation activities for kids.
This kind of self-awareness plus action is crucial for success in school, work, and relationships, and many adults lack emotional regulation skills which is why it is so important to teach these skills to young children.
Research shows that kids who struggle with emotional regulation are more prone to externalizing behaviors, like aggression, as well as internalizing ones, like depression or anxiety.
Emotionally regulated children are generally happier and more optimistic than their un-regulated peers and can handle their emotional responses.
That being said, there are many ways you can help your child develop healthy levels of emotional awareness and management.
The following activities are a great place to get started!
What Is Emotional Regulation
Emotional regulation is the ability to understand and manage our emotions instead of having an emotional outbursts. It is a crucial part of mental wellness and self-care, especially in times of stress or crisis.
When we regulate our emotions, we respond appropriately to situations, using the most helpful strategies for that particular moment. Emotional regulation is necessary for appropriate social interactions, as well as general self-discipline and self-control, not to mention mental health.
When we regulate our emotions, we respond appropriately to situations, using the most helpful strategies in a healthy way for that particular moment.
Why Use Emotional Regulation Games
Kids need a healthy outlet for their feelings, and they are best learned while they are young. Activities that promote healthy emotional expression help kids learn to accept and process emotions rather than bury or ignore them.
This ability to recognize, understand, and process emotions is crucial for healthy social and emotional development. Healthy outlets for emotions can include talking about them, writing about them, or even drawing or making art about them.
Emotional regulation games are a great way for kids to engage with their feelings in a safe space that doesn’t threaten their ego.
Ask The Right Questions
The most obvious way to help your child with self-regulation skills is to talk about big feelings. If you notice your child is having a strong reaction to something, ask her what she is feeling, when she in a calm and non emotional state, because you cannot teach new lessons in emotional dysregulation.
And try not to jump to conclusions; make sure you let your child explore her feelings and think about her emotional reactions first.
If you make assumptions about what your child must be feeling, she might learn to distrust her own emotions. If your child is struggling with a strong emotion, like anger, sadness, or frustration, you can help her explore the difficult emotions.
- Start by asking her what she is feeling.
- Then ask her what she thinks is causing the feeling.
- Then ask her what she would like to do about the feeling.
This last question is important because it can lead to problem solving or conflict resolution, which are key parts of emotional regulation.
Help Children Develop Self-awareness Through Mirroring Games
Mirroring games are a great way to help children develop self-awareness and emotional self-regulation. To do this, find a mirror and sit behind your child as she looks at herself in the mirror. Ask her to tell you what she sees in the mirror.
Your child might say that she sees herself wearing a blue shirt, or a ponytail, or her freckles. Then ask her what she thinks her reflection sees. You can also try asking your child what she thinks you see when you look at her in the mirror.
Be sure to mirror your child’s responses, so she can practice being aware of herself when she does not notice.
Continue this conversation for several minutes, asking your child open-ended questions about what she sees and feels when she looks at herself in the mirror. You can continue this activity with the lights off, if you like.
Help Kids Build Empathy And Understanding Of Others Through Role Play Activities
Role play activities and fun games are a fantastic way to help kids develop empathy, as well as an understanding of other people’s different emotions and reactions.
To start, brainstorm situations and create characters that reflect your child’s world. This can include people your child knows, like her friends, family members, or teachers. It can also include people she doesn’t know, like other kids at school, people on the bus, or people in far-away countries. These characters can be people your child admires, or people she doesn’t like very much.
Role playing gives your child an opportunity to explore her emotions, develop empathy, and learn about herself in the process. Whatever situation or person you choose, ask your child to assume the role of the character. Then let her explore her emotions and reactions.
Help Your Child Build Self-regulation Through Breathing Exercises
Breathing exercises can help your child build self-regulation when they are having a hard time. To do this, sit down with your child and start breathing deeply.
Make sure you are deep breathing from your diaphragm, not your upper chest. Diaphragmatic breathing triggers the relaxation response, which will help your child calm down. If your child finds this too challenging, you can sit down together to make a relaxation jar.
Ask your child to put items inside the jar that trigger a feeling of calm. This can include items like the smell of vanilla or lavender, a stuffed animal, or a small photo or other special object.
As your child looks at these items, she’ll be reminded to use her relaxation jar to calm down when she feels overwhelmed or angry.
Help Kids Build Emotional Vocabulary And Language Skills Through Writing Activities
Writing activities can help your child build emotional vocabulary and language skills which are important for all social interactions later in life. To do this, let your child choose a topic that makes her feel strong emotions, like a friend, teacher, or pet that she misses or dislikes for this social-emotional learning.
Then ask her to write a letter to this person or pet. While she writes, your child will have a chance to explore the emotions she feels toward other people or animals, which are important skills to have.
You can also ask your child to write a letter to herself. This letter can include the things your child wants to work on, like dealing with anger or being kinder to others.
As your child writes, she will have the chance to explore her different feelings and learn about herself in the process of this emotional intelligence journey. Make sure to read back your child’s responses, as well as her letters to herself, so you know what she is discovering about herself.
Help Kids Practice Mindfulness And Finding Calm Through Yoga Or Breathing Practices
Yoga or breathing exercises can help your child find calm and deal with big emotions. To do this, sit down with your child and help her do a breathing exercise that relaxes her using calm words and deep breaths.
You can also try yoga with your child. This can be a great way to spend time with your child and help her find calm. If your child is struggling with anxiety, consider doing these exercises with her daily.
This can be a great way to help your child feel calm and relaxed, even when she is at home by herself.
Emotional Regulation Twister Game
Twister is a classic game that has been around for decades. It’s an active game that encourages kids to think about their bodies in space, which can be a good way to help them think about their emotions.
To play, have your child stand in the middle of the Twister mat and ask her to think about things that make her feel angry. Then have her place her left foot on the red dot and her right foot on the blue dot.
Next, have her think about something that makes her feel sad, and have her place her left foot on the blue dot and her right foot on the yellow dot. This helps kids turn their emotions into physical sensations.
How Freeze Dance Can Improve Self Control
Freeze dance is a fun game that can help kids hone their self-control skills. You can play it any time of the year and with any theme you want. You can even play it as an indoor game on a rainy day.
First, divide your kids into two teams. Then explain that each team has a leader. The leader can start by shouting “freeze!” and then dancing to whatever music is playing. The other kids (no matter what team they are on) have to stay completely still until the music stops.
When the music stops, the leader shouts “unfreeze!” and everyone can start dancing again. The team whose leader can keep the team from dancing for the longest time without breaking out in movement, wins.
Benefits Of Emotional Regulation For Kids
- Helps them understand their own feelings. When we can identify our emotions and understand where they come from, we can use them as valuable sources of information. Once your child knows what she’s feeling, she can think about what might have caused those feelings—and what she might do about them.
- Reduces stress. Kids who are more aware of their emotions can respond to stressful situations in healthier ways. This can help them better regulate their emotions in the moment as well as use positive coping skills when they are feeling stressed in the future.
- Builds empathy. Kids who can understand their own emotions are better able to recognize and respond to other people’s emotions. This can help them build strong relationships with peers and develop healthier relationships with adults too.
- Helps them connect better with themselves. Kids who are aware of their emotions can make positive choices about how to respond to them. They don’t need to act impulsively or fall into unhealthy coping strategies like substance use.
How To Approach Emotional Regulation As A Parent
The best way to teach your child emotional regulation is by modeling it yourself. One of the best ways to do that is to use the “sandwich” approach to expressing your own emotions.
When you have something difficult to talk to your child about, start with something positive or neutral. Then say what you need to say, and finish with something positive again. Your child will learn that it’s okay to have emotions and that it’s okay to express them.
You can also find creative ways to help your child express his feelings. For example, you can create a “talk pillow” with your child where he can write down his feelings or draw pictures about them
Emotional regulation is an essential skill for kids, and one that can be improved with practice, especially if you use a fun way to practice this great tool. The activities and techniques on this list can help your child develop a better grasp on their emotions, as well as those of others.
As your child practices these techniques, she will develop a stronger ability to identify and understand how she feels, as well as how others feel. This can be an important step in helping your child succeed in school, work, and relationships.