We are not born with the ability to regulate our emotions. The mood of a toddler may swing like a pendulum.
Helping our children learn to self-regulate is one of the most essential duties of parents. This essay will look at how emotional self-regulation develops and how we may assist our children in developing this important ability.
What is Emotional Regulation
Emotional regulation, also known as self-regulation, is the capacity to monitor and control which emotions one has when they occur, and how they are experienced and expressed.
Learning to self-regulate is a critical milestone in child development, the roots of which are formed in the first years of life.
The ability of a kid to control their emotions has an impact on their family and peer relationships, academic achievement, long-term mental health, and ability to survive in a complicated environment.
Relationship With Peers
A kid who is unable to self-regulate and frequently throws tantrums strains the parent-child connection. This can have a detrimental influence on the atmosphere of the entire home, including siblings or everyone around them, and lead to a downward spiral.
Similarly, children who lack the capacity to manage their feelings or behavior may have a more difficult time forming or maintaining friendships. An inability to self-regulate emotions can result in behaviors such as anger, aggressiveness, withdrawal, or anxiety.
All of this can lead to further bad consequences: children who are rejected by their classmates are more likely to drop out of school, engage in delinquency, drug misuse, and other behavioral issues.
Performance and Success
Good emotional regulation in children, on the other hand, not only has a beneficial influence on relationships, but it is also a significant predictor of academic performance and success. 3. Effective emotion management enables a student to concentrate on performance throughout tests and examinations rather of being distracted by fear.
Students that can self-regulate have greater attention and problem-solving ability, as well as superior performance on tasks involving delayed reward, inhibition, and long-term goals.
This impact lasts for the rest of one’s life. Adults who are unable to control their emotions have worse work satisfaction, mental health, and overall well-being.
Meanwhile, children who have learnt to control their emotions are better able to deal with and recover from trauma or adversity: they have a greater distress threshold and are more resilient.
Many clinical problems in children are intimately connected to emotional control or, more specifically, its absence. Emotional dysregulation, for example, has been linked to behavior problems such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and it can put a child at a high risk of developing anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and clinical depression, as well as numerous clinical disorders and the development of psychopathology. Given all of this, it’s no surprise that scientists believe emotion management or self-regulation abilities are critical for children to grow. Take a look at this movie from Harvard University’s Center for the Developing Child.
How to Help a Child Regulate Their Emotions
While many variables can impact a children’s capacity to control, including instructors, schools, communities, classmates, culture, and genetics, parents and family play a critical role.
Let’s have a look at the major elements that impact a children’s capacity to manage their emotions.
Modelling has long been acknowledged as an important process for children’s learning. Children study their parents’ every action, internalizing and then copying them.
One of the earliest examples of emotion-related modelling infants witness is their parents’ capacity to exercise self-regulation. In many settings, children learn the “proper” reaction. They see how parents manage and fight with strong emotions and urge.
According to research, children of parents who struggle with emotional control are more likely to have dysregulation.
When a parent is reactive, screams, or yells when anything goes wrong, the child learns to be reactive and misbehave when things don’t go their way. When a parent remains cool and thinks critically to solve issues, the kid learns to remain calm and search for answers rather than blaming others. The bigger the mimicking effect, the younger the child.
In addition to active observation, children learn through emotional contagion, which occurs when children instinctively detect their parents’ emotions and respond with comparable sentiments.
For example, when parents scowl, raise their voice, or make angry gestures, their children feel angry as well. When parents raise their voices, children raise theirs as well.
Parental modelling is the most effective method for teaching children self-regulation. Emotional regulation in children is influenced by emotional regulation in parents. You can also try to play fun games to teach self-regulation for kids.
Emotion management activities or tools aimed at children should only be utilized as a supplement or as a last resort for children who lack a suitable emotional control role model to learn from. They should not be utilized instead of proper parental modelling.
Peer influence begins to merge with parental influence as the kid grows older: Older children learn about self-regulation by seeing and imitating their classmates. However, the quality of the parent-adolescent connection continues to play an important part in the adolescent’s self-regulation.
Parents may assist their children to acquire good emotional regulation.
work to improve emotion regulation methods role model positive emotions and emotional regulation expose children to a pleasant environment and persons with strong self-regulation abilities
Adopting Warm Parenting Style
Parenting techniques that are responsive, loving, and accepting can assist children in developing excellent emotional self-regulation.
When parents respond, their children equate them with comfort and stress alleviation. According to research, newborns who have their parents respond to their weeping will stop screaming when they see or hear their parents – they are anticipating being scooped up. If the parent fails to provide the desired comfort, the newborn returns to the distressed condition. Children who have attentive parents have a broader set of emotional control abilities at their disposal.
It is also vital for parents to believe in emotion regulation. Parents who recognize, understand, sympathize with, and affirm their children’s unpleasant feelings have a beneficial impact on them. They may then train children on how to express themselves verbally and help them to problem-solve.
However, if parents are dismissive or disapprove of their children expressing their feelings, especially negative ones, children are more likely to adopt harmful emotional control strategies. These parents are typically uncomfortable expressing their emotions and teach their children to repress their emotions.
Parents who respond adversely to their children’s emotions or punish them for them might make them even more agitated, triggering their “fight-or-flight” nervous system and making them more difficult to calm down 19.
When this happens, the kid may appear to be more rebellious, but their system is overstimulated. Telling a child in the midst of a tantrum to “cool down” or threatening punishments (operant conditioning)may excite their systems to the point of a meltdown. These children essentially have worse self-regulation skills, making it more difficult for them to calm a more worked-up system. As a result, punishing parenting techniques are counterproductive in terms of teaching emotional regulation.
When it comes to unpleasant feelings, some parents push them under the rug. They believe that if you can’t see it, it doesn’t exist or will vanish. Unfortunately, emotions do not operate in this manner. Children whose parents reject emotions and do not discuss them in a helpful manner are less able to control their own emotions and pay attention in social circumstances.
Parents can use the following parenting technique to effectively teach self-regulation:
- Be welcoming, kind, and sensitive to their children’s emotional needs
- Discuss your feelings
- Accept, support, and provide empathy in order to legitimise their bad sentiments.
- Be patient and do not reject, dismiss, discourage, penalise, or respond harshly to emotions, particularly unpleasant emotions.
Create Positive Family Environment
The family’s general “climate” is an excellent predictor of a children’s capacity to self-regulate. The parents’ connection, their personalities, their parenting style, parent-child interactions, sibling relationships, and the family’s attitudes about expressing feelings are all factors that influence the emotional environment.
Children feel welcomed and safe when the emotional environment is good, responsive, and constant.
Children are more reactive and uneasy when the emotional atmosphere is unpleasant, forceful, or unexpected.
Parents who exhibit good feelings on a daily basis foster a positive environment. Excessive or consistent expression of negative emotions such as grief, anger, hostility, or criticism by parents contributes to a bad environment and poor self-regulation in children.
Marital disputes are one of the most prevalent causes of a bad family atmosphere. Children from these homes learn to manage interpersonal disputes and emotions in non-constructive ways. These children are also less likely to develop social skills.
Parents may help to foster a pleasant home atmosphere by doing the following:
really convey pleasant feelings
Seek assistance to better handle marital problems or bad personalities within the family, and focus on strengthening parent-child and sibling interactions.
Lead Children In Self-Regulation Strategies
So far, we’ve discussed three distinct methods parents may assist their children to self-regulate. You are correct if it appears like parents must do more than their children to manage their emotions.
Young children look on parents to teach them self-regulation. The executive function of school-aged children will become more important as they get older. Parents can then teach self-help skills to their children.
There are five phases in emotion production, according to the process model of emotion regulation described by James Gross and associates. To control people’s emotions, several techniques can be used at different phases.
- Stage 1: Situation Selection – This refers to approaching or avoiding someone or some situations according to their likely emotional impact.
- Stage 2: Situation Modification – Modifying the environment to alter its emotional impact.
- Stage 3: Attentional Deployment – Redirecting attention within a given situation to influence their emotions.
- Stage 4: Cognitive Change – Evaluating the situation to alter its emotional significance.
- Stage 5: Response Modulation – Influencing emotion tendencies and reactions once they arise.
Because children are less able to escape or change their surroundings, most coping techniques focus on the final three stages. They also frequently fail to recognise the connection between situation and emotion.
The following are some ways that parents can teach their older children:
- Stage 3: Redirect attention (for example, look at this red rabbit!)
- Stage 4: Reappraisal of the circumstance by reframing it (e.g. we can turn this into a rocket )
- Stage 5: Coping skills (e.g., biofeedback, counting to ten, deep breathing exercises)
Self-care in everyday life is crucial for older children, especially adolescents and teens, in building their own resources to control emotions. Among the activities that improve self-care are:
- Running, swimming, and other aerobic activities are examples of exercise.
- Meditation and yoga are two examples of mindfulness practises.
- A good night’s sleep and excellent sleep hygiene
- Music therapy is a type of relaxation treatment.
How Does Emotional Regulation in Children Develop
So, how can children learn this crucial skill? How can we, as parents, assist them?
To begin answering these questions, let us define emotional regulation.
To self-regulate, we must observe, monitor, and identify our sentiments – and then adjust them to each scenario. It should be noted that this does not necessarily imply a decrease in negative sentiments and an increase in good ones. Suppressing unpleasant emotions and pushing ourselves not to express them is not a healthy self-regulation approach.
If it appears that certain children have a more difficult time learning emotional control abilities than others, you are not imagining things. Researchers discovered that certain newborns’ temperaments are naturally more capable of self-regulation than others.
However, while genetics are essential, the environment in which a kid grows up is as, if not more so. The ability to self-regulate is not fixed: given the right circumstances, all children may learn to manage their emotions.
An investigation at a Romanian orphanage demonstrates the significance of the surroundings. Some orphans in the research were randomly allocated to foster families with high-quality care, while others remained in the orphanage. Adopted children outperformed those who remained in terms of emotional control.
Babies’ brains are not fully formed when they are born. We may compare the development of their minds to the construction of a home.
The architectural blueprint may form a building, but the outcome will vary considerably depending on whether the structure is constructed of straw, wood, or brick. Similarly, genetics define a fundamental blueprint for a children’s brain development, but their life experiences, like the materials used to build the home, can have a significant impact on the outcome.
And, just as it is simpler to influence a home during the construction process than it is to change it afterwards, human brains may learn particular talents better or more readily at certain stages of life. These ideal times are referred to as sensitive periods or crucial periods.
There is a steady reduction in the capacity to become proficient once the sensitive time of learning a skill has gone. It is still possible to learn a new talent, but it will take longer and the individual is less likely to excel at it.
For example, research suggests that the best time to acquire a second language and become completely bilingual is before puberty.
Orphans adopted by foster homes before the age of two showed emotional control abilities equivalent to children’s who were never institutionalized in the Romanian orphanage experiment. As a result, the sensitive phase of emotional self-regulation occurs before a kid reaches the age of two. Science has demonstrated that the value of childhood life experiences cannot be emphasized.
However, this does not imply that once children reach that age, they have missed out on the potential to develop self-regulation. It just implies that it will be more difficult and would require more time and patience. As a result, it is preferable to do things correctly the first time while children are small rather than trying to rectify them later.
Don’t give up if your child is older. It is never too late to begin assisting children in learning to self-regulate. What you need to do is get started right away – the sooner the better.
On the other hand, this does not imply that the process of learning to self-regulate is complete by the age of two — far from it. The brain of a kid does not fully mature until the mid-twenties.
What Parents Can Do
Our brains control themselves via two different sections of our neurological systems.
First and foremost, there is an emergency or quick-response system — the “gas pedal.” Its principal function is to trigger the body’s fight-or-flight response. Consider this to be the gas pedal of an automobile. When engaged, this system permits our bodies to move quickly by increasing our heart rate, stopping digestion, and increasing blood sugar for rapid energy. When a newborn or kid becomes too excited, this system kicks into high gear, and emotions are at “high speed.”
Second, there is a method for relaxing or dampening – the “brake.” This system takes longer to activate, but once it does, it reduces our heart rate, improves digestion, and saves energy. This soothing portion of our nerve system may counteract the fight-or-flight system’s “high speed” effect, and it is critical in managing our physiological processes and mental well-being.
When these systems are in balance, our bodies function normally and we have emotional control. When the systems are out of balance, however, we must use our self-regulation methods to restore them to a healthy condition.
Because the fight-or-flight reaction is so important for human survival, it’s no surprise that the “gas pedal” develops before birth. Every parent understands that infants are fully capable of becoming riled up enough to cry in order to alert parents to their needs or perceived threat.
The “brakes” system, on the other hand, is not fully formed at birth. Thumb sucking, eye avoidance, and withdrawal are some of the minimal self-regulation abilities accessible to infants. However, they can only self-soothe to a certain extent, particularly if they are really worked up or if whatever is bothering them does not cease.
To make matters worse, the “gas pedal” might cause the production of a stress hormone, which suppresses the “brake.”
When newborns cry out of control, they are driving an emotion-runaway automobile with no brakes! It is our responsibility as parents to assist children in regulating their emotions. Their neural systems are not yet capable of doing the task on their own.
Emotional Regulation in Children
If the material about assisting children in developing self-regulation appears to be dense, it is. It serves as a reminder that our roles as parents are critical in influencing our children’s destinies.
However, none of us can guarantee a flawless environment, genetics, or modelling. Expecting perfection from oneself may generate stress and unhappiness.
What we need to do is maintain working on our emotional muscles while also attempting to create a supportive atmosphere. And it is never too late to begin.
So take a big breath, accept where you and your family are in the process, and dive in. The work is certainly worth it.
- 1.Parker JG, Asher SR. Peer relations and later personal adjustment: Are low-accepted children at risk? Psychological Bulletin. Published online 1987:357-389. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.102.3.357
- 2.Perry DG, Kusel SJ, Perry LC. Victims of peer aggression. Developmental Psychology. Published online 1988:807-814. doi:10.1037/0012-16184.108.40.2067
- 3.Graziano PA, Reavis RD, Keane SP, Calkins SD. The role of emotion regulation in children’s early academic success. Journal of School Psychology. Published online February 2007:3-19. doi:10.1016/j.jsp.2006.09.002
- 4.Côté S, Morgan LM. A longitudinal analysis of the association between emotion regulation, job satisfaction, and intentions to quit. J Organiz Behav. Published online November 19, 2002:947-962. doi:10.1002/job.174
- 5.Thompson RA. Emotional regulation and emotional development. Educ Psychol Rev. Published online December 1991:269-307. doi:10.1007/bf01319934
- 6.Buckholdt KE, Parra GR, Jobe-Shields L. Intergenerational Transmission of Emotion Dysregulation Through Parental Invalidation of Emotions: Implications for Adolescent Internalizing and Externalizing Behaviors. J Child Fam Stud. Published online June 25, 2013:324-332. doi:10.1007/s10826-013-9768-4
- 7.Schore AN. Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self. 1st ed. Routledge; 2015.
- 8.McLaughlin KA, Sheridan MA, Tibu F, Fox NA, Zeanah CH, Nelson CA III. Causal effects of the early caregiving environment on development of stress response systems in children. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. Published online April 20, 2015:5637-5642. doi:10.1073/pnas.1423363112
- 9.Saarni C, Campos JJ, Camras LA, Witherington D. Emotional Development: Action, Communication, and Understanding. Handbook of Child Psychology. Published online June 1, 2007. doi:10.1002/9780470147658.chpsy0305
- 10.Fox SE, Levitt P, Nelson III CA. How the Timing and Quality of Early Experiences Influence the Development of Brain Architecture. Child Development. Published online January 2010:28-40. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2009.01380.x
- 11.Johnson JS, Newport EL. Critical period effects in second language learning: The influence of maturational state on the acquisition of English as a second language. Cognitive Psychology. Published online January 1989:60-99. doi:10.1016/0010-0285(89)90003-0
- 12.boone tim, reilly anthony j., Sashkin M. SOCIAL LEARNING THEORY Albert Bandura Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1977. 247 pp., paperbound. Group & Organization Studies. Published online September 1977:384-385. doi:10.1177/105960117700200317
- 13.Carrère S, Bowie BH. Like Parent, Like Child: Parent and Child Emotion Dysregulation. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing. Published online June 2012:e23-e30. doi:10.1016/j.apnu.2011.12.008
- 14.Parke RD. Progress, Paradigms, and Unresolved Problems: A Commentary on Recent Advances in Our Understanding of Children’s Emotions. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly. 1994;40(1):157-169.
- 15.Hatfield E, Cacioppo JT, Rapson RL. Emotional Contagion. Curr Dir Psychol Sci. Published online June 1993:96-100. doi:10.1111/1467-8721.ep10770953
- 16.Farley JP, Kim-Spoon J. The development of adolescent self-regulation: Reviewing the role of parent, peer, friend, and romantic relationships. Journal of Adolescence. Published online June 2014:433-440. doi:10.1016/j.adolescence.2014.03.009
- 17.Tronick EZ. Emotions and emotional communication in infants. American Psychologist. Published online 1989:112-119. doi:10.1037/0003-066x.44.2.112
- 18.Lunkenheimer ES, Shields AM, Cortina KS. Parental Emotion Coaching and Dismissing in Family Interaction. Social Development. Published online May 2007:232-248. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9507.2007.00382.x
- 19.Eisenberg N, Cumberland A, Spinrad T. Parental Socialization of Emotion. Psychol Inq. 1998;9(4):241-273. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16865170
- 20.Eisenberg N, Cumberland A, Spinrad T. Parental Socialization of Emotion. Psychol Inq. 1998;9(4):241-273. doi:10.1207/s15327965pli0904_1
- 21.Morris AS, Silk JS, Steinberg L, Myers SS, Robinson LR. The Role of the Family Context in the Development of Emotion Regulation. Social Development. Published online May 2007:361-388. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9507.2007.00389.x
- 22.Petrides KV, Sangareau Y, Furnham A, Frederickson N. Trait Emotional Intelligence and Children’s Peer Relations at School. Social Development. Published online August 2006:537-547. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9507.2006.00355.x
- 23.Rothbart MK, Sheese BE, Rueda MR, Posner MI. Developing Mechanisms of Self-Regulation in Early Life. Emotion Review. Published online April 2011:207-213. doi:10.1177/1754073910387943
- 24.Gross JJ. The Emerging Field of Emotion Regulation: An Integrative Review. Review of General Psychology. Published online September 1998:271-299. doi:10.1037/1089-26220.127.116.111
- 25.Harris PL. Children’s understanding of the link between situation and emotion. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. Published online December 1983:490-509. doi:10.1016/0022-0965(83)90048-6
- 26.Goldin PR, McRae K, Ramel W, Gross JJ. The Neural Bases of Emotion Regulation: Reappraisal and Suppression of Negative Emotion. Biological Psychiatry. Published online March 2008:577-586. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2007.05.031
- 27.Davidson RJ, Schwartz GE. Patterns of Cerebral Lateralization During Cardiac Biofeedback versus the Self-Regulation of Emotion: Sex Differences. Psychophysiology. Published online January 1976:62-68. doi:10.1111/j.1469-8986.1976.tb03339.x
- 28.Feldman G, Hayes A, Kumar S, Greeson J, Laurenceau J-P. Mindfulness and Emotion Regulation: The Development and Initial Validation of the Cognitive and Affective Mindfulness Scale-Revised (CAMS-R). J Psychopathol Behav Assess. Published online November 7, 2006:177-190. doi:10.1007/s10862-006-9035-8