Teaching children to regulate their emotions is very important for a variety of reasons. First, research suggests that kids who can self-regulate are less likely to experience anxiety, depression, and difficulties at school. Yet more importantly, this skill helps little ones feel empowered.
First, what is self-regulation?
Self regulation is the ability to manage your emotional and behavioral reactions, in accordance with the situation at hand. It includes being able to mediate the intensity of your reactions, to calm yourself when you get upset, to adjust nicely to change, and to be able to handle frustrations when things aren’t going your way.
Well, when we put it that way, almost everyone has trouble with self-regulation from time to time.
And that’s the point.
Despite some research claims to the contrary, self-regulation is a skill that is taught. It’s not something that we either have or we don’t. While there may be some personality types that are more prone to self-regulate, everyone can learn how to do it with a little practice.
So, how can we teach these important skills to our children?
We believe that teaching self-regulation goes hand in hand with teaching kids how to understand their emotions. While it’s true that some kids respond well to behavioral approaches, (like getting a sticker every time they behave in a desired way), we like to go a step beyond that idea so that each child learns what we call intrinsic motivation.
Intrinsic motivation is at play when we do something because we want to, not because we know that we will be rewarded for it. A behavior is intrinsically motivated when it makes us feel good inside. Positive behaviors that are motivated from the inside also tend to last far longer than ones that are being driven by external rewards.
So, with that in mind, it’s important for us to help our children see the bigger picture, or, the desired goal, in each situation. Once a goal is set, we can walk our children through the process, by validating how they are feeling, and acknowledging how hard it is to wait, or share, or whatever the goal may be, while still keeping our eyes on the prize.
Let’s talk a little bit more about waiting, since it’s so hard for many of us – adults included! (Plus, when we break it down, sharing is only hard because it requires waiting when it isn’t your turn!) Anyway, helping your child find ways to distract himself while he’s waiting is a great tool that he can use throughout his lifetime. For example, maybe he could sing a song, or tell a story, or even remember the plot to one of his favorite movies or books.
Finally, whenever possible, give your child a choice in the matter. You may not be able to offer the choice that she wants, but helping your child make decisions increases her sense of self-esteem and self-mastery, both of which are helpful in handling things when the going gets rough.
If you would like to learn more about helping your child learn to self-regulate, contact us. We are here to help!