Emotional Regulation: Raising an emotionally healthy child

Emotional Regulation 

Emotional regulation is one’s ability to recognise, process and act upon emotions that one feels. Emotional regulation or managing emotions is a skill people acquire over time. Some people might be unable to regulate or manage their emotions effectively.

Emotional regulation allows individuals to respond to social situations with adequate emotions i.e. it enables a person to initiate, inhibit or modulate behaviour in order to garner social acceptance.  

What do difficulties with emotional regulation most commonly look like?

Children who face a difficulty recognising and managing their emotions might commonly display the following signs:

  • Frequent outburst and tantrums when things don’t go according to plan
  • Might get overly excited
  • Have difficulty recovering from disappointment
  • Get easily anxious in social settings
  • Have difficulty focusing or paying attention
  • Inadequate social skills
  • Reduced interest in playing with other children
  • Might get easily upset, frustrated or worried when minor changes occur around them

An occupational therapist can use structured programs including a variety of cognitive and sensory strategies to support emotional regulation for a child. A professional occupational therapist equips children and their families with the skill set required to regain control of their actions and emotions.

In collaboration with the parents an occupational therapist might teach children the social skills needed to survive social situations adequately. an OT might introduce different exercises to practice in order to manage and control emotions. They might do this by introducing a range of emotions and categorising them into different zones, followed by teaching the child about adequate behaviour for every zone of emotions. 

What can I do at home?

Here are some strategies for promoting emotional regulation at home: 

  • Increase emotional literacy 
    In order to develop awareness of emotions use emotional based language in your house, express emotions and physical sensations associated with every emotion in day-to-day discussions. 
  • Work together to develop strategies
    Empower your child with skills to self-regulate emotions. Teach them tips and strategies for recognising, expressing and managing emotions. For example, teaching breathing exercises for situations that call for calming oneself. 
  • Be patient
    Emotional regulation strategies vary from person to person and there is no there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to it. Constant trial and error with patience will determine which strategies work best for your child. 
  • Validate your child’s feelings 
    Teach them that everyone feels different emotions at different points in time and it's okay for people to feel all sorts of emotions.  
  • Praise your child’s efforts 
    Whenever your child tries to regulate their emotions reinforce their behaviours by praising and encouraging them.
Activities and games that can help Improve emotional regulation
  • Use fidget toys, stress balls, play-doh, bubble wrap or kinetic sand for discharging anger from the body or releasing tension
  • Deep-breathing exercises
  • Role play, acting out different situations with different emotions and discuss what the consequences may be for each sort of response.
  • Practice short exercise or physical activities to burn any excess energy
  • Create a mood chart to help your child label and identify whatever they are feeling.
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