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Promoting Emotional Regulation in Children 

Updated: May 20

Learning how to regulate emotions is one of the most important skills for children to develop. Emotional regulation lays the foundation for how kids relate to the world around them, their peers, and their families. Emotions are responses to our thoughts, feelings, and what is happening in our environment.  


What is Emotional Regulation in Children? 

Emotional regulation refers to a child's ability to identify and manage their emotions. It is an emerging set of skills that children develop as they learn about the relationship between feelings and expressions.  


This area of development is ever-present and constantly evolving for children. From birth, kids begin feeling a range of emotions, and that range expands as they grow. They must be supported and prompted to skillfully encounter, identify, and act upon their emotions. 


Emotional regulation dictates a child's success in most aspects of life - at home, at school, and beyond. Remember, it is how they engage with their surroundings. Proper emotional regulation helps build skills like self-soothing, working through frustration, building empathy, and reacting appropriately in different contexts.  


It is important to note that a child's emotional understanding builds upon cultural and social contexts. What regulation looks like can differ for each child. The goal is for children to naturally think, plan, and react appropriately to situations over time. 


Emotional regulation at an early age is vital. By recognizing emotional regulation's importance early, skill development can start young when it is most impactful, benefiting the child, family, peers - anyone the child interacts with.  


A child smiling showing the positive effects of emotional regulation.

Emotions in Children 

Children experience emotions intensely and their feelings can shift quickly, which can be confusing for caregivers as they seek to understand what emotion triggered the reaction.  


As children learn and experience new emotions, they also learn how to react to those feelings. Due to their age and limited life experiences, children tend to experience all-or-nothing thinking. They see things as either good or bad since they have not developed enough awareness to have perspective.  


Perspective allows us to understand there might be more to the story than just "good" or "bad." Because of this black-and-white way of thinking, children's emotions are more intense as they act upon purely positive or purely negative feelings. 


A child's behavior is heavily influenced by their thoughts and feelings. Proper behavior aids them in: 

  • Making friends 

  • Learning at school   

  • Behaving in socially acceptable ways 

  • Increasing independence 

  • Grounding themselves when experiencing big emotions 

  • Feeling better about themselves 

With better emotional regulation, children have less opportunity to feel the shame and anxiety that comes from uncontrolled emotions. It allows them to cope with challenges and thrive. 


Developing Emotional Regulation Skills in Children 

To help children build emotional regulation skills, there are several strategies caregivers can employ: 


Teach and Talk 

  • When calm, intentionally teach children about different feelings. Avoid lessons in the heat of big emotions when they will be less receptive. 

  • Practice labeling and discussing emotions naturally throughout the day - while reading, playing, etc. "Can you guess how they're feeling? What does that face mean?" 

  • Model emotional expressions and have children mimic/identify them. 

  • Children learn by watching. Be thoughtful in modeling emotional behavior. 

Promote Self-Awareness   

  • Help label their feelings and identify situation triggers: "You seem frustrated that the tower keeps falling." 

  • Explain emotions stem from reasons - not out of nowhere. 

  • Validate their self-awareness: "A lot of kids feel nervous starting a new school." Do not dismiss feelings as wrong. 

  • Allow expression of emotion, while setting limits: "It's okay to feel angry, but not okay to hit." 

Teach Calming Strategies 

  • "Cope ahead" by identifying situations that may trigger big emotions. 

  • Reflect after: "How did your body feel then vs. now? What could we do differently next time?" 

  • Try calming auditory resources like music. 

  • Practice breathing exercises presented as games, like "rainbow breathing." 

  • Start by standing with your arms by your sides. Inhale as you raise above the head then, exhale as you lower them.  

The key is building emotional self-regulation skills through modeling, discussion, and coping practices. Every child's journey will look different. 


Developing emotional regulation skills is crucial for children's overall well-being and success. By learning to properly identify, experience, and manage emotions, kids build vital abilities that will benefit them at home, at school, and in forming healthy peer relationships.  

Emotional regulation is an ongoing process of children gaining self-awareness and learning strategies to cope with big feelings in a constructive way. But by making it a focus from an early age, caregivers can instill invaluable lifelong skills. 


The path looks different for every child based on their unique personalities, experiences, and environments. Some may need more support than others. But no matter where a child is starting from, promoting emotional regulation through open conversations, modeling behavior, and practicing calming techniques can have a profound impact. 


With knowledge and awareness of emotional regulation in children, we can empower them with powerful emotional skills that will serve them for the bright futures ahead of them. 





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