Comments Off on Teaching Kids Emotional Regulation
Posted on by Leonardo Rocker (Quirky Kid Staff)
One of the ways in which children develop an ability to manage their emotions is by watching their parents and mimicking their coping strategies (Cole, 1994). Naturally children develop those emotional regulation skills gradually and parents need to consider suitable modeling strategies for the different developmental stages. A three-year-old, for example, may express anger by throwing a tantrum, while a five-year-old might be able to more clearly verbalise the source of the anger. Many children will, however, struggle to cope with the intensity a specific emotion. For some children, the development of emotional regulation does not come automatically and requires more focused input from parents.
All Emotions are Valid
There are no “bad” emotions. Children will experience a range of emotions everyday from mild to extreme ones. Help your child to understand those emotional changes, name them and explain how each emotion feels in their body. You can continue to explore what behaviour comes out of those emotions and if there may be a better way of expressing it. The Quirky Kid ‘Face It’ Cards are designed to increase emotional awareness.
To a child, the disappointment of missing out on a play date may be every bit as intense as what you would feel if, for example, you missed out on your best friend’s wedding. Allowing your child to experience, recognise and name that disappointment lets them know that you care about them and their feelings (Denham, 2012).
The same is true for anger. A child who is angry about a perceived unfairness – not being allowed to watch television, having to leave a birthday party, or being “mistreated” by a sibling, for example, needs your acknowledgement that their anger is legitimate. You aren’t denying them the emotion; you’re simply asking that they express it appropriately.
As the children develop, and with some assistance from their parents, this process is transferred from an external source (e.g., parents calming a crying child) to internal (e.g., children using language to calm themselves).
You can’t change what your child feels. In fact, your child needs to feel safe expressing a full range of emotions. You can, however, help shape the behaviour that occurs as a result of those emotions.
For example, a child who is prone to violence can have his anger validated while still knowing that hitting, kicking, or pinching are not acceptable. It often helps if you’re able to control your own behaviour. Yelling, smacking, or punishing harshly in an effort to get the undesirable behaviour under control will spark further negative emotions in the child, making it more difficult for them to get their behaviour under control.
On the other hand, modeling appropriate behaviour will help your child to learn how to control their own emotional responses. Show your child that sometimes, you need to take a moment to think things through or remove yourself from the situation. Modeling these behaviours will give your child a clear example of how they should act.
Share Your Own Feelings
Because children learn from your responses, they need to understand what has prompted those responses too. It can be very helpful for children to have their parents share how they feel and how they have behaved. This can help with not only validating how children feel but can also provide opportunities to discuss appropriate coping responses and develop a sense of understanding of the child’s situation. Participating in discussions about emotions gives children new tools for regulating their own expression of emotions.
Through modeling positive ways to cope with different emotions, a parent implicitly teaches children how best to express emotions and regulate them (Valiente, 2004).
Helping your child to manage their emotional responses can be a challenging part of parenting, however, it has immeasurable benefit for children as they grow up and learn to navigate the world and the world’s increasingly complex interactions.
Need a little extra help with that process? Contact us to see what we can do.
Cole, P. M., Michel, M. K., & Teti, L. O. D. (1994). The development of emotion regulation and dysregulation: A clinical perspective. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 59(2‐3), 73-102.
Denham, S. A., Bassett, H. H., & Zinsser, K. (2012). Early childhood teachers as socializers of young children’s emotional competence. Early Childhood Education Journal, 40(3), 137-143.
Valiente, C., Fabes, R. A., Eisenberg, N., & Spinrad, T. L. (2004).The relations of parental expressivity and support to children’s coping with daily stress. Journal of Family Psychology, 18, 97–106.
Have there ever been times when you have looked at your child and just felt so different from them? Have you ever been left wondering what tree did they did in fact fall from?
Writer, activist and Psychiatrist, Andrew Solomon has recognised the commonality of these feelings amongst parents and families in his book ‘Far From The Tree’ and discusses how negotiating difference within families is a universal phenomenon.
While the diversity and uniqueness of all humans provides the rich tapestry of the world we live in, feeling very different to our own children can be a challenge to embrace and can cause friction in families. Common challenges include negotiating routines and family structures, finding things all family members enjoy doing together and questioning your parenting abilities and capabilities. Often parents at the Clinic stress that it is not the love for their child that is lacking but the ability to accept their child and enjoy their uniqueness that poses the challenge.
Acceptance in parenting can be conceptualised as being able to see and acknowledge the uniqueness in your child, without pressing for this to change, as Andrew Solomon states, it is “finding the light in your child and seeing it there” (Solomon, 2014). This doesn’t mean that we don’t strive to shape our children’s behaviour, educational outcomes, sporting ability etc, but rather, we accept and validate with warmth their unique personality, we love them for being them. Studies consistently tell us that children who feel accepted by their parents have a better more secure relationship with their parents, a heightened sense of family connectedness, higher self esteem and fewer psychosocial challenges, such as anxiety and depression (Ansari & Qureshi, 2013; Dwairy, 2010). The heartening news is that acceptance is something which can be learnt and developed over time. At the Quirky Kid Clinic, we use some practical strategies to facilitate acceptance within families.
Assess your own expectations
One of the biggest blocks to being able to accept your child is holding onto unrealistic expectations of your child and yourself. Some common expectations include “my child should be academic”, “to be successful my child must focus and work hard”, “it is not normal to be so fussy”, “I am a bad parent if I don’t like spending time with my child”. Statements that include “should”, “must”, “meant”, “not normal”, “bad parent” will invoke stress, anxiety and often anger, and typically do not reflect the true reality of the situation. Most parents can agree that having a happy child that achieves within their capabilities, academically, socially, physically and emotionally, is their hope and dream. Just because your child is not like you doesn’t mean that they are not valuable and certainly doesn’t mean that you have failed in your role as a parent in any way. Replace these statements with more helpful and realistic statements, like “my child may not be academic but they have other skills”, “being successful is finding a happy balance”, “most children can be fussy”, “all people are unique and so is my child” and “I am a normal parent experiencing common thoughts among parents”. Most parents don’t have mini-clones of themselves and most experience the challenges of raising unique children at some stage.
Become a child- scientist
Acceptance is fostered through understanding and knowing. Get to know what makes your child tick, what they love doing, what interests them, who they feel close to, what they want you to be doing with them. A helpful way to elicit this information is to discuss these questions during parallel communication times (ie. when you’re talking but not face to face) such as in the car, taking a walk, playing a game or at bedtime). For younger children, drawing can be helpful. A lovely activity to do together is draw a world and put all the people that are in their world onto the picture (you can write or draw). Using stickers, you can then identify people who love them (heart stickers), people who are good to talk to (dot stickers), people who are good to have fun with (star stickers) and people who help them (triangle stickers) (Lowenstein, 1999). Use this information to develop and strengthen your child’s support network.
Take turns in doing things together that you and your child enjoy and make time in your schedules to have fun together. Make space in your house to cater for your child, whether it be a spot for lego, music, games or special interest books. It can also be helpful to have a family friend whom you can enlist as a support person for your child and who can also take an interest in your child’s life.
Become a mindful parent
Mindful parenting focuses on developing awareness around interactions with your child through focusing your attention on your child’s needs in a particular moment whilst regulating your own emotions (Duncan, Coatsworth, D & Greenberg, M., 2009). Being in tune with your child is likely to help your child feel accepted and valued. While mindful parenting sounds difficult to achieve, there are some steps you can take to help develop your skills in this area.
Listen with your full attention: focus on what your child is communicating to you, what words are they using? what facial expressions do they have? look them in the eye, down at their level and show them that you can hear them. Active listening helps parents understand the needs and meaning behind behaviour.
Communicate: reflect back to the child what you hear them saying. Try and not make judgements here, just reflect what you can see and hear. For example, “you are feeling very angry because your brother used your special cup”. This can help your child build awareness of their own behaviours and acknowledge you are listening and hearing them.
Help your child label their emotions: it is important for children to be aware of the emotions they are feeling as it can really help them make conscious choices about how to respond to them. For example, parents may say “ it looks like you are angry because I can see your fists tensing up, your face looking red and you are shouting”.
Demonstrate self regulation and compassion: Pausing before your own reaction and teaching your child to do the same (eg. count to 10 before reacting or blowing out 3 breaths to blow off the anger) can help to limit unplanned and heated arguments or words that can impact negatively on children and parents. Showing empathetic concern towards your child shows them that you love them despite the situation and demonstrates your acceptance despite the behaviour. Following on from this process, behaviour can then be addressed through using calming strategies, timeout and removal of privileges in a calm and planned manner.
Warmth and Praise
Feeling accepted comes from feeling validated as a person. Warmly validating your child on a daily basis can improve relationships, behaviour and family connectedness. Some helpful ways to validate your child include:
making a photo wall of all the things you like about them and what they do. For example, taking photos of them hugging their sister, playing their lego and of family outings can help your child know that you notice and feel happy about special things they do or may be interested in. You can write in captions and put the date on the photos to elicit more meaningful memories of the special time/ activity/ quality.
use plenty of specific praise: tell your child you love them and praise specifically every day. For example, “I loved how you noticed when mummy felt unwell and thought to get her some tissues”. This tells the child exactly what things you have noticed and loved about them.
make a Brag Book (Lowenstein, 1999): at the end of every day, write one praise point in your child’s book that you can read together before bed. Again, make the praise specific. This book can be a concrete reminder to your child that you love and accept them.
Ansari, B. & Qureshi, S. (2013). Parental Acceptance and Rejection in Relation with Self Esteem in Adolescents. Interdisciplinary Journal of Contemporary Research in Business, 4 (11), 552-557.
Duncan, L. Coatsworth, J. & Greenberg, M. (2009). A Model of Mindful Parenting: Implications for Parent-Child Relationships and Prevention Research. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 12 (3), 255-70.
Dwairy, M. (2010). Parental Acceptance-Rejection: a Fourth Cross-Cultural Research on Parenting and Psychological Adjustment with Children. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 19 (1), 30-35.
Lowenstein, L. (1999). Creative Interventions for Troubled Children and Youth. Higell Book Printing.
Soloman, A. (2014). Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity. Scribner.
Gifted and talented students are those with exceptional abilities and qualities in areas such as academics, culture, leadership, arts, creativity, and sport. Gifted and talented children are found in every cultural, social, ethnic and socioeconomic group. However, it is relatively uncommon, and is recognized only in children whose IQ is at or above 130. Exceptionally gifted students, usually have pronounced talents in one specific field of interest – for example, music or mathematics – and are even less common.
Due to a gifted child’s rapidly developing cognitive abilities, often there is a large difference between their chronological age, intellectual maturity, and emotional maturity, causing some gifted children to experience an intensity or sensitivity of feelings and emotions.
This sensitivity or intensity of emotions may be displayed in a range of behaviours which may leave the gifted child open to teasing and social isolation at school.
Identifying a Gifted Child
Gifted children often display some of the following traits.
Fluent and flexible thinking
Excellent problem solving skills
Learns quickly and with less practice and repetition
How can I help my gifted child make the most of his abilities?
Communicate with your child’s teachers. Ask about what accommodations can be provided for your child to help keep him stimulated and learning at a challenging pace. You may also want to ask about accelerated or advanced classes, or special programs for the Gifted and Talented.
Provide learning opportunities for your child outside the classroom. Gifted children excel when they are given the chance to keep learning and developing their talents. He may excel in academically-themed camps, weekend classes in drama, music, languages, sports, or writing.
Trips to museums, science centres, and other cultural events may also be fun and a great way to bond with your child. The University of NSW (UNSW) offers school holiday programs for Gifted and Talented students through GERRIC. Programs like ‘The Power Up!’ program by Quirky Kid are also a great idea.
Introduce your child to other gifted or talented children. Research shows that gifted children experience less stress and negative emotions when they have the opportunity to discuss their social and emotional concerns with others of high ability. A Gifted and Talented program, either as part of school curricula or as an extracurricular pursuit, can help your child meet and interact with other gifted students.
Affirm your child as a whole being, not just as a ‘high achiever’.
Qualities such as kindness, tolerance, and fairness – not just intelligence or achievement – are important. Recognition as a ‘all-rounder’ will help reduce the pressure many gifted children feel.
Talk to an experienced Psychologist. Gifted and talented children are often at risk of serious under achievement, social isolation, poor concentration and mood swings associated with frustration. Psychological intervention can assist with motivation, organizational skills, social issues and study schedules and many other related concerns.
Recommendations for teachers and parents
Gifted students love the idea of learning something new and they will enjoy being provided with additional, more challenging work. By accelerating a gifted child’s work, grades or by attending opportunity classes, it will help feed the child’s need to learn and help to keep their behaviour under control.
Gifted students should be provided with opportunities to socialise with peers of similar abilities. This may be possible by attending a selective High School, or participating in Gifted and Talented programs.
Gifted children may benefit from being provided with independent study or research projects, particularly in their area of interest.
Extra curricular activities, such as drama, music, languages, sports, gymnastics, dancing, or creative writing, should be encouraged.
Highly gifted children are often at risk of serious under achievement, social isolation, concentration or behavioural symptoms and may benefit from receiving counselling.
What are the challenges associated with giftedness?
While giftedness is generally considered an asset, many gifted children experience challenges that their non-gifted peers will not.Due to a gifted child’s advanced cognitive abilities, they may find it difficult to relate to, and from satisfying bonds with other children in their peer group. This can lead to social isolation from same-aged peers, identification with adult or elder peers and frustration in class.Gifted children process information more rapidly than others in their age group, which can make them highly sensitive to their environments. This sensitivity can lead to moodiness, irritability, or anxiousness in gifted children.Giftedness is often associated with perfectionism, which can lead to procrastination and, paradoxically, under achievement in school.
Quirky Kid published a range a resources to support the emotional and social development of children and adolescents. Parents can greatly benefit from some of this resources available on the Quirky Kid Shoppe. Below you can see the Face it cards, The Just like when cards and the Likes of youth
The Quirky Kid Clinic offers a range of services to assist gifted children. Please contact us to make an appointment or visit our assessment page for further assessment information.
Purchasing Power up
This article was also published at the Essential Kids Website.
First posted on October 2011. Revised September 2012
Information for this fact sheet was taken from an interview with Child Psychologist Kimberley O’Brien, and the following article.
Dabrowski, K., & Piechowski, M. M. (1977). Theory of levels of emotional development. Oceanside, NY: Dabor.