Parents and carers can extend children’s development of emotional skills by helping to manage children’s emotions and behaviours. Parents can help assist and teach children to manage emotions in different ways, one of which is developing self-regulation. Self-regulation is the ability to manage our emotions, behaviour and attention. It is the ability to return to a balanced, calm and consistent state of being; it is vital for children to manage life’s ups and downs, and improve concentration, social relationships and learning. Parents and carers can help children develop their capacity to self-regulate by:
- being calm and providing safety and security
- having predictable routines and clear boundaries
- listening and acknowledging children and providing support when they are upset, tired or angry
- creating opportunities for children to watch the adults in their life manage their own feelings and behaviour
- teaching children the names of feelings and helping them to identify their feelings by name
- providing children with unstructured time to play and learn at their own pace.
In addition to helping children develop self-regulation, parents and carers can help children manage their emotions by modelling calm behaviour, helping children be calm and helping children to learn to manage emotions on their own.
Modelling calm behaviour
Children learn self-control and appropriate emotional expression and behaviour by watching and experiencing how other people manage their emotions and from their own experiences of how others behave with them. By demonstrating calmness and staying in control of feelings and behaviours, parents and carers can help provide a blueprint for children to learn from. Parents and carers can help model calm behaviour by:
- understanding and managing your own emotions, which will help you to be relaxed and calm for the children in your care
- learning to recognise when a child ‘pushes your buttons’ and developing ways to manage these situations to minimise stress and enable positive experiences for everyone
- have conversations with others to share experiences and strategies. This also helps to reduce feelings of isolation (i.e. you are not on your own).
Useful questions to ask yourself: How do you know when you are feeling overwhelmed or stressed? What pushes your buttons? (ie., what aspects of a child’s behaviour do you react to?) What do you do to help keep yourself calm and manage your own emotions? Does it work? What else could you try?
Helping children be calm
Parents and carers can help children be calm by:
- acknowledging, encouraging and responding to children’s communications (e.g. through positive touch, active listening), and show appropriate levels of emotion in your interactions with children
- helping children slow their breathing down (e.g. by blowing bubbles) and taking deep breaths
- encouraging children to imagine they are a floppy ragdoll and to give themselves a shake or pretending to be their favourite animal napping to close their eyes and relax
- demonstrating empathy and care to try and see things form the child’s perspective. This can help understand their motives, protect against potential problems and respond appropriately and quickly when challenges arise.
- encouraging children to express emotions in productive ways (e.g. drawing or acting feelings out with toys)
- developing strategies to use when children are feeling out of control (e.g. have a calm thought or picture, take time out, read a calm story or talk with someone how they feel).
Useful questions to ask yourself: How do you know when a child is feeling overwhelmed or stressed? What do you do to help them become calmer? Does it work? What else could you try? What do they do to become calmer themselves?
Helping children learn to manage their emotions on their own
When children know that they can make themselves and others feel better, they feel confident, capable and more in control. Parents and carers can help children learn to manage their feelings, resolve conflicts, and respond to the emotions expressed by others by teaching them ways to reduce stress and maintain a calm state. These include teaching children to:
- minimise stress and optimise ‘feel good’ hormones through breathing techniques, exercise, positive social experiences, diet and rest
- watch and learn from how others manage their strong emotions
- problem solve ways of managing situations that prompt strong emotions for them (eg., having a calm thought, moving away)
- express their emotions in productive ways such as drawing, acting with toys or with playdough.
If your child is experiencing difficulties in managing emotions, or when concerns are persisting over an extended period of time or interfere with education, home, friendships and daily life you may need to seek professional support.