Emotion Regulation: The Key to Helping Kids Cope during Stressful Times
Have you ever heard of the term emotion regulation? It's a popular term in the world of child psychology, and it is closely tied to anger outbursts, anxiety, and depression.
During times of crisis, like a global pandemic, the ability to regulate emotions is key to helping kids manage and overcome these difficult times without slipping into a dark place. Many of the kids that walk into the therapy room struggle with emotion regulation, and it is often the key to helping them recover from their mental health condition. But what is it?
In today's article, I'm going to help you understand what emotion regulation is, breaking it down into its many parts. Let's get started!
What is Emotion Regulation?
Simply stated, emotion regulation is the ability to control and moderate one's emotions. Everyone is capable of emotion regulation, but many struggle with it. There are several factors that contribute to someone's capacity to manage their emotions effectively. Let's take a closer look at each one.
Temperament plays a major role in a child’s ability to self-regulate his emotions and is closely related to personality. It is the base from which you act and react. Some individuals have a mild, easy-going personality (i.e. temperament), whereas other people may be more spirited and fierier in the way they act and react to situations.
Temperament plays a big role in how your child acts under times of stress. There is little you can do to change a child's temperament, but you can teach your child techniques to help manage their temperament during times of anger and stress. These techniques are called coping skills.
Coping skills are at the core of a person’s ability to regulate emotion. But what are they anyway? Chances are, you AND your child have coping skills already. Most of us do. The key is learning to harness their power and use them when you need them the most.
Coping skills are things you engage in to help relax or calm yourself down during times of stress. These things help you feel better. We aren’t born with coping skills, however. We learn these skills over time by watching our own parents engage in them, learn them from our friends, or perhaps read about them in a book or online. Some examples of coping skills would be:
> Deep Breathing
As you can see, a coping skill is anything that helps you calm down during times of stress.
Emotional health is an important part of emotion regulation. Children who suffer from anxiety, depression, trauma, etc., can have trouble regulating their emotions, which causes distress on the whole family. Frequently, stressful events, such as a global pandemic, can produce anxiety for children. This, in turn, can make it difficult for children to manage their emotions and lead to behavioral problems, such as anger outbursts.
Communication can play an important part in effective emotion regulation. If your child can't express himself clearly, he'll be less likely to get his needs met and more likely to fall into emotional trouble. A prime example of this are toddlers. One of the reasons toddlers often have temper tantrums is because they are unable to clearly communicate what they want from their caregivers. As a result, they become frustrated, which leads to anger and an outburst.
How Do I Help My Child Cope?
Now that you understand what emotion regulation is, what should you do next? The great news is that there is so much you can do to help your child manage stressful life events. Although you can't do much about your child's temperament, you CAN do something about their coping skills, mental health, and communication efficiency.
1. Help your child develop some coping skills. Practice the skills with them and use them yourself! Show your child how to manage those difficult emotions by practicing what you preach. Remember, actions speak louder than words!
2. Practice and encourage clear communication. If you're not sure how to do this, you can snag a free ebook copy of my book, Eliminating Temper Tantrums. There's a chapter on communication that will help you develop a better understanding of this topic.
3. Finally, don't be afraid or embarrassed to get some help from a therapist. If your child suffers from a mental health condition, schedule an appointment with a mental health provider and get your child the help they need. A therapist can also help teach your child those coping skills AND better communication. So it's a win-win-WIN!
If you are interested in seeking a therapist, you can call your insurance company or check out online directories such as Psychology Todayor Counseling California. If you are located in California, and are interested in working with me, give me a call and I'd be happy to help!
I hope you found this article useful. Feel free to contact me if you would like more guidance on this topic. For more great parenting tips and blog posts like this, don’t forget to subscribe!
About the Author
K.C. Dreisbach is a wife, mother of two, and a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Southern California. As a therapist, her specialties include Parenting, Maternal Mental Health, and Teens/Adolescents, among others. With 10 years of experience as a mental health professional, K.C. has worked with thousands of families achieve a happier, healthier family life. In her spare time, she enjoys camping, fishing, writing works of fiction, and spending time with her family.