When younger children feel overwhelmed by their emotions, their brain goes into survival mode and they can revert to immature actions to deal with it. Which makes sense. If I am feeling emotional overwhelmed, I go and hide or ugly cry. The only difference is that we, as adults, know how to self-regulate our emotions and our children don’t.
Adults are quick to label children’s emotional outbursts as them acting out or attention seeking. As I have mentioned in previous blog posts, my daughter’s prep teacher thought her anxiety and social unawareness was just my daughter being a bad kid and attention seeking. It happens, but it is important to understand that this behaviour is often out of their control.
It all breaks down to two particularly important things: Self-regulation and emotional regulation. These go hand in hand when teaching and understanding your children’s emotional wellbeing. So, what exactly are they?
Emotional regulation focuses on the positive and negative emotions and how past experiences can shape and connect our interpretation of them. It also allows us to cool down and stop to think before we act.
Self-regulation is the ability to manage and understand your emotions, thoughts, behaviours and how to show them appropriately in different situations. This one develops over time as they grow right into adulthood.
I’m going to be real with you. It is sometimes so much easier to just give in when their emotions get a little too strong and they refuse to do what you need them to. We may over soothe, let them get away with it or even bribe them to calm down, but these are short term fixes. It gets done when we take over, but we are taking away a great learning opportunity for them on how to do things for themselves as well as how to emotionally regulate.
I learned this the hard way with my daughter and home-school last year. It was so much easier to just do it for her rather than deal with the tantrums and the arguments. My son is also famous for this. Ask him to clean his room and boom! It’s tears, yelling and the slug body drag on the floor. It took time, but I realised had to step back and let them deal with it themselves to help them in the long run. It wasn’t perfect and I still hover, but we got through home-school… and my son’s room is passably clean most days.
Fortunately, no matter where your child is at with self and emotional regulations, there is plenty of professional help out there including us! ParentalEQ BackPack App has a multitude of activities and audio files to help break down and understand your children’s mental wellbeing. This week’s audio file “Emotional Regulation” has some great advice on what, how and why teaching your kids to self-regulate is so important for their mental wellbeing and the benefits of it as they grow.
But if you don’t have the time to talk to a professional and you already have our app to help, here’s a few things to help them manage their emotions.
Practice deep breathing: You knew that was coming. Stopping to take a breath can help refocus their emotions as well as calm them down enough to explain what is going on.
Calm down countdown: Much like deep breathing, counting can distract them enough to calm them down. Pick a number and stick to it whenever their emotions get a little too much. My daughters favourite is 5.
Take a break: This one is huge in our household. If things are getting a little heated, I tell my kids to take five. This means that they walk away from the situation (and the triggers) to collect their thoughts. Once they are calm, they can come back, and we can walk through what happened.
Detective Thinking: Detective thinking (found on our BackPack App) dives deep into what might have trigger an emotional outburst and why. It helps kids put a name to it which makes it easier to understand.
Soothing Distraction: Create a small bag or have a special something that can help them handle the overwhelming emotions. My daughter has a stuffed pig called Peppy that was given to her in Kindergarten that she talks to where my son has a blanket he uses for comfort in stressful situations. Your bag can have anything from stickers or snacks to small games and stuffed friends. Anything that will help them self soothe.
Lead by example: Kids learn by watching the adults in their lives so it’s important even in the midst of screaming and meltdowns to stay calm and self-regulate yourself. You can also give your child examples of when your emotions felt a little out of control and what you did to help/
If it fails the first time, don’t worry! Remind your children of their goals and empower them by guiding them through their fears and confusing emotions. Talking is the most powerful tool in your arsenal and kids thrive on warm, responsive relationships with their parents. You got this!
ParentalEQ BackPack App can be downloaded from your favourite app store.
Written with calm by Casey Luxford