Improving emotional control in children

Emotional control is the ability to manage emotions to achieve goals, complete tasks, or control and direct your behavior. If this is a strength for you, you’re not only able to handle the daily ups and downs of life easily but can maintain your cool in more emotionally charged situations as well- whether its confrontation with a hot-tempered boss or with a teenage son challenging parental authority.

Most of us demonstrate the skill in some settings but not in others. Most of us, kids and adults alike, have a “public self” and a “private self”, and different rules seem to govern each of these personas.

In toddlerhood and preschool years, however, you can begin to see individual variations in emotional regulation abilities. Some little kids go through “terrible twos” with only mild tantrums, while others may have emotional meltdowns. Some children can roll with the changes in their surrounding while others may get agitated if the sequence is disrupted in any way. Teens who lag behind in developing emotional control will be at an even bigger disadvantage, experiencing more than their share of emotional turmoil during a phase of development that’s marked by emotional ups and downs. Those who can manage their emotions are less likely to argue with teachers and parents can handle performance situations (examinations, games) without excessive anxiety and can bounce back quickly from disappointment.

Improving emotional control in everyday situations

  1. With younger children, regulate the environment: – You can reduce the likelihood that the child’s emotions will get out of control by building in routines, particularly around mealtime, bedtimes, and playtime.
  2. Prepare your child by talking with him/ her about what to expect and what can be done if he/ she starts feeling overwhelmed. Some problem situations are simply unavoidable but can be defused with a little advance work. 
  3. Give your child coping strategies. What options of escape can you provide? Simple self-soothing strategies can help like picking up and holding a favorite stuffed animal (for younger children) or plugging into soothing music on your cell phone (for older children).
  4. Let your child learn simple relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and progressive relaxation.
  5. Read stories in which characters exhibit the behaviors you want your child to learn Older children can get access to autobiographies of famous personalities and how they dealt with the failures.
  6. Give the child an acceptable way to express his emotions (especially anger & frustration)
  7. Identify, with him/ her, the situations where the behavior is most likely to occur.
  8. Rehearse (role-play) the situation and cue the child on the appropriate behavior.
  9. Cue him/her about your expectations just prior to entering the situation.

Another option for boosting your child’s social opportunities and enhancing planning at the same time is to look for regular, recurring activities on weekends. Sports, drama, dance, and other programs can provide social opportunities in a scheduled, structured fashion that instills planning skills indirectly while ensuring that your child has predictable time with peers outside of school.

Be supportive, but otherwise refrain from offering your opinions. Stick to listening and providing whatever help your child asks for. Going beyond that and giving advice about what she should do will likely only add to the pressure an anxious child already feels and be counterproductive.

—Dr. Yasmin Siddiqui—-

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