Model Emotional Regulation for Children
By Deena Bodine, LCSW – May 14, 2019
Life can place many demands on us: work obligations, financial pressures, health issues…the list goes on. These life stressors can make it difficult to be at our best as parents, especially when we feel overwhelmed, frustrated, discouraged, or defeated.
During this time, we may even begin second-guessing our parenting decisions. But like so many other parenting moments, we have an opportunity to turn our stress into a teachable moment for our children.
We know that kids learn from watching us even more than they learn from listening to us. This reinforces the idea that in order to be the best teacher for our children, we must learn to better regulate our own emotions and set a better example for our children.
One important step in teaching emotional regulation is acknowledging our own emotions. Acknowledgment teaches our children that not only do adults also experience big emotions, but we can respond to these emotions in a healthy manner.
Acknowledgment of emotions can be as simple as identifying the feeling. For example, “I am feeling overwhelmed because I can’t find my keys and I need to leave for a meeting.” When we label the feeling, we not only teach our children that adults experience frustration, but they are also primed to watch for our response to the situation.
Our children watch and learn from us, and if we respond to anger or frustration by losing our cool, we lose the teachable moment and send the wrong message on how to manage our anger effectively. Instead, take a moment, take a breath, and then focus on finding those keys calmly.
As we work to manage our emotions it is important to recognize the core of our emotions and the beliefs that drive them. Have you ever wondered why certain people get very worked up about something that seems very insignificant to you? It is due to the beliefs they have attached to the event that is stressing them.
Perhaps we attach certain meanings to a name we were teased about as a child, and when we hear that name as an adult it releases a flood of emotions and memories that linger years later. Trying to gain insight behind our emotions is no easy task, but understanding those beliefs can be a game changer.
The final step in emotion regulation is remaining in control of your response. This can be done through deep breaths, closing your eyes to remain calm, and taking a few seconds or minutes to pause. This can help change our perspective or at least prevent us from acting on an emotional impulse. Saying or doing something we will regret certainly sends the wrong message to our children in those teachable moments.
While it is a challenge to be at our parenting best when we are struggling to manage our own emotions, the reward of healthy emotion regulation can be great. We are in the best position to teach our children how to handle life stressors every single day. We owe it to our children and ourselves to be the best versions of ourselves we can be.