Teaching children to control their emotions

If you’re a parent or have been around children you know how everything in their world can explode very fast - just one little thing and BAM! You have a tantrum show right in front of you. Kicking and screaming, throwing and biting (they can get creative). Of course, all of us feel like doing so sometimes, but we don’t. And the reason why we don’t is because throughout the years we have learned how to regulate or emotions.


Emotion regulation simply means that you have developed the ability to properly articulate your emotions, in a way that is acceptable for the people around you. For example, sometimes you want to kick your coworker in the face with a chair because he’s absolutely horrible, but you don’t - and that’s because you’ve learned how to control your anger.

When do we and when should we start regulating our emotions?

The answer is, as soon as possible. While children before the age of 2 or 3 might still be too young to understand any other way to express themselves and they just serve you their emotions on a plate - literally out there, your son is upset and you know he is because everyone in the building can hear it, older children should be able to start regulating their emotions and expressing them through a more proper (and more quiet) behavior.

How to help your child develop good emotion regulation skills?

There are certain things that you can do to help your child develop solid skills for controlling their emotions, and ideally you should start doing this before they start going to school. School is one of the first environments in a child’s life where the interaction with other people grows significantly and they find themselves experiencing so much, which will result in certain emotions. Here’s a few things to help you do it:

You are the model

Children learn by example. And from a very, very early age. Their brain is like a sponge, it absorbs everything, and while they’re still so young - some things that they’re going to grasp are forever going to stay like that. You’re the first model for your child, along with the teachers and the closer family.

To teach them how to regulate their emotions - you need to show them. If you’re going to yell, scream and throw a tantrum when they say no to you about something, so will they when you say no to them.

In a situation when you’re upset with them - you don’t start yelling, you just sit down and tell them how upset you are, what are the reasons and why this is unpleasant. When children see your behavior they will adopt it straight away. Especially around the age of 5-6 when they have a phase of pure fascination by their teacher or their nanny. You will often notice them imitating another person from their everyday life that they find important while they’re playing in the living room.

Be a good example and they will start to follow.

There are no unacceptable emotions - just unacceptable behavior

This is something really important. You should never discourage your child about how they feel, or make them feel bad for being angry or upset. It is important that you let them feel what they feel and work on how they express that. You’re not inhibiting the emotions - you’re just inhibiting the negative, overwhelming behavior.

When you see your child throwing a tantrum, it is important to focus on how they feel and use that opportunity to teach them how to articulate that feeling. When you deny their emotions or when you are focused on the emotions instead of the behavior that comes out of them - it can have a pretty bad backlash.

Encourage the good behavior and discourage (not punish) the bad behavior

When your child acts maturely and controls their actions in a certain situation where they usually wouldn’t, it’s time for you to step up and encourage them about it. Reward them in a way that will keep this kind of behavior going. But, when a child isn’t reacting the way you’re expecting them to, then don’t punish the negative behavior - instead, discourage it. You have an emotion about it itself, don’t you? You feel a little upset or disappointed because they aren’t behaving properly. Sit down and articulate. Be a good model. Remind them that they’re able to behave much better than that.

Teach your child how to self-reflect

We would never be able to truly understand how we feel if we don’t internalize, analyze and then get to a conclusion. Self-reflecting helps us keep a better touch with our inner self and understand our emotions, where they’re coming from and what triggers them.

There are plenty activities that you can use to give your child the skills of self-reflection. One of them is mindfulness. You can practice mindfulness with your child. Taking a little time of your day to sit down and guide them through a process where they sit down and think about how a certain situation made them feel, giving them the chance to think about how they want to act upon it can go a long, long way.

Why is emotion regulation important?

Giving your child the proper coping skills gives them the chance to build healthy relationships, achieve more academically and become confident. When you teach children to regulate their emotions it means that you’re already teaching them to recognize their emotions. This can help them grow into a mentally stronger person.


Emma V.