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.
- Quirky Kid has recently published a comprehensive Social and Emotional Learning program called, The Best of Friends. Find out more about it online. Social and Emotional Learning program called, The Best of Friends. Find out more about it online.
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.