THIS. IS. A. BIG. TOPIC!
So I’m going to break it down into a few sections. Lets start with Emotional Regulation in ADULTS.
Because I think it's a good place to start, looking at ourselves. How we handle our emotions, what triggers us, and how we can model our emotions for our babes. After all, we all experience situations in life which elicit emotional responses, whether this is being unable to do something, someone speaking to us in a way we don’t like, or other scenarios. In these types of situations, we need to be able to manage our emotions and respond in a way that doesn’t make things worse. We need to use self regulation.
So what is emotional self regulation?
Self-regulation is the ability to understand and manage your emotions and behaviour in response to things happening around you. It helps you to control your impulses (to make better decisions), to not overreact when upset or excited, and to be able to calm down after an incident, should one occur.
It is important for adults to regulate their own emotions, before addressing their child’s. If we are stressed as we go to help a child, we will not be as effective. Even if emotions are rising inside, it is important to present a calm front to the child. Children are perceptive observers of adults and they learn from how we manage our own emotions. So we need to modelling self-control, self regulation.
So what do we do when we are feeling triggered?
Stop for a moment and think about what you are really upset about? Is it what is occurring at that present time or are you tired, hungry, overwhelmed, pushed to your limits with things to do? More often than not these are the core of the issue and once you realise this it can help you to refocus and calm down.
Still not feeling it, try taking some breaths, count for 3-4 seconds breathing in, hold for 3-4 seconds and out for 4-5 seconds. Do this half a dozen times.
Our children are forever looking, watching and learning from us. Let's try and work on our own self regulation first so we can help out little ones learn how to self regulate themselves
Self Regulation for Toddlers
Self-regulation is not something that comes easily for toddlers and is something that is learned through co-regulation.
Co-regulation occurs between a baby/child and a warm, responsive caregiver, where the caregiver meets the child’s physical and emotional needs and soothes/calms the child when they are experiencing ‘big emotions’. This, in turn, builds the neural architecture which is necessary for the child to learn to self-regulate; to feel secure and manage their own emotions.
An examples of this could be when your child is crying and or getting aggressive or worked up because they want a toy in a shop, but it's not something you intended on buying. To assist your child with their big emotions, you need to connect with them to help co-regulate. Get down on their level, ask them if they would like a hug, if yes, hug them and see if they calm down a bit before talking to them. If not then thats ok too. Talk to them in a genuine and respectful tone. Say something like "I can see you are really upset. You really want that toy. Its upsetting when you want something and its not something we came to buy. I used to feel that way too when I was a child. How about we take a photo of you with it so we can look at it again when we get home. Let's pop it back on the shelf now and we can come back to see it another day."
If they are still upset you may now have acknowledged the correct emotion they are feeling. Try the above again but maybe they are feeling angry so address that feeling. You don't have to say this word for word, but the objective is to acknowledge how they are feeling, why they might be feeling that way, let them know its ok by giving then an example of when you felt that way too. Give them the joy of taking a photo with the toy and let them put the item back on the shelf themselves, giving them ownership and control.
If they wont put it back on the shelf ask them again and if no success say to them, "I can see you are having trouble letting go of the toy, it is very beautiful / fun etc isn't it. We have our photo to look at it again. It's time to go, let's say goodbye to it. I'm going to help you pop it back on the shelf now" and gently guide their hand towards the shelf.
Once a child feels heard and acknowledged they often calm down and will want to have ownership and control of putting the item back.
These steps help the child process their feelings, understand that it's ok to be upset and learn how to calm down and move on. Therefore learning how to self regulate. They feel heard, respected and still in control. Thats all we want as adults too isn't it?
Self-regulation can be taught, but only once co-regulation has taken place. It is important to find the most effective strategies, so children are able to manage their ‘big emotions’ and challenges they may face, as well as follow rules and understand limits.
Why is learning self regulation important?
Managing our feelings and emotions is vital, as our ability to do so can affect our lives in so many ways. Self-regulation can affect physical wellbeing by boosting healthy brain development, as well as overall better health outcomes, such as reduced incidents of heart disease, obesity and drug dependency.
Emotionally, self-regulation helps nurture a more positive sense of self, as well as the ability to cope better with stress, which is particularly important given the increasing levels of mental health issues in children.
Socially, it is beneficial for social skills that affect friendships and getting along with others, and can affect the teacher-pupil relationship. All this can lead to more success throughout life.
Working with your child now to learn self regulation will set up them for success in their future.
How we can help with Self Regulation?
Self-regulation is something that can be learned with help and support from caregivers, so whether you are a teacher or a parent, you can play a very important role in helping children learn to self-regulate. Children do not learn to self-regulate on their own, and at first their behaviour is driven by impulses, as we see in toddler tantrums! We need to find teachable moments to help children learn to self-regulate by using co-regulation and skills instruction, as well as practice (and plenty of praise when they try to manage their feelings).
Early childhood is when our brains experience huge growth, especially in the frontal cortex (the area most closely associated with self-regulation), so this is an important time to start learning self-regulation. Research shows us that teaching self-regulation skills to preschool children improved their school readiness (Duncan et al., 2017). However, because our brains also experience major change during adolescence, children of any age will benefit from self-regulation interventions.
It is important to note that poor self-regulation can be displayed through externalising (shouting and screaming) or internalising behaviours (being withdrawn). Be mindful of the fact that internal behaviours are not always obvious, as they are directed inward.
How are you finding working on self regulation with your little one?
Strategies on Self Regulation
Here are some great strategies to help toddlers learn self regulation.
Co-regulate by providing a warm, responsive relationship with the child/young person, which will in turn, teach them skills to self-regulate. To co-regulate effectively, you need to get alongside the child/young person in their time of distress, reassure them and acknowledge their feelings, using a soothing voice and calm manner. It’s important to focus on the emotion and not on the behaviour (i.e. the anger rather than the hitting).
Use empathy to acknowledge a child’s feelings. Don’t dismiss feelings – they are so important!
Find opportunities to talk about the range of emotions we all experience – how we all experience different feelings, it’s normal and it’s how we manage them that’s important. Our Busy Books emotions activities are great for this!
Mindfulness and meditation
If you sense your child getting stressed, then try to engage them in a quiet activity. Mindfulness and meditation are a good way for children to learn to pause and focus on breathing and calming down highly-charged emotions. Discussing things they are grateful for.
We have a new Busy Book coming out soon which will explore emotions, ways to handle feelings and emotions, cause and effect, kindness and mindfulness.