If you’ve been following our series on emotional regulation, it will come as no surprise that this post is focused on how to support children in using strategies to regulate their own emotions. This takes time, practice, and patience; yet it is critical for us as parents to begin instilling this skill in our children now. Waiting until they are “older” will only make this task more difficult for both of you.
I’ve heard parents say time and time again, “My son/daughter is still little. I’ve got time to teach them these things when they are older.” In a different context I may agree. However, when speaking about emotional regulation this begins once our children begin making choices for themselves, normally around 2 years of age.
Yup! You do. Same for our children, even at very young ages! As parents, we can tell them what to do and guide them to make the best choices but free-will dictates that it is up to them to actually act on our request. Thankfully the majority of parent requests should be respected without too much push-back from our kids; but we all know that when our kids don’t want to do something or are in a bad mood our requests are likely to be met with resistance or even flat out refusal!
The main reason that I have spent time bringing the issue of making choices to your attention is because as you work to teach your child new skills I want you to keep in mind the issue of free-will and how incentives and consequences can be used together to build success. More on these soon.
The other important element to keep in mind is your level of consistency.
Consistently following through on what you say will happen will teach your kids that you mean what you say. Once they figure this out, they will take you more seriously, and find more success in their plan by increasing their ability to use their coping skills. Be prepared for your child to test the limits and to push back on the new strategies a bit. This is completely normal for children to do. It is their way of figuring out exactly what their expectations are with these new emotional regulation tools.
Some example questions that they may be trying to find the answers to include:
*Do I have to use them all of the time?
*Are mom and dad using them?
When you and other caregivers follow through on what you say will happen, these questions and many others will be answered in the same manner each time. This results in your child feeling safe and secure in improving their emotional regulation skills. It’s a win-win for everyone!
The part you’ve been waiting for is here! Lots of strategies to get you and your children started in using coping skills to regulate emotions happens now. Just remember our 2 points from above: free-will choices and consistency. They are both critical to success.
Consequences. Positive, negative, and natural consequences are very powerful elements to use when teaching a new skill or behavior. Work with your child to create a combination of positive incentives (a.k.a. positive consequences), and appropriate negative consequences. These consequences should be aimed at replacing your child’s need to tantrum by giving them incentives to use their coping skills. Humans are always motivated to do things their way. If you can use incentives unique to your child, you can encourage them to achieve the results that they (and you) are looking for.
Incentives can include physical rewards such as toys. Alternately, they can be intangible such as verbal acknowledgements or extra privileges.
Incentives can also be internally driven by your children. For example, doing the right thing results in them feeling proud. We call this intrinsic motivation. Of course this is our ultimate goal, it will just take some time to get there.
Role play to the rescue. When you are both calm, teach your children how to use coping skills and positive decision making. Practice with them through role play. This will help them to feel more confident when faced with strong feelings and tough situations in the future. Acting out situations is fun and increases the learning experience for your children. Here are some scenarios that may be helpful to act out when it comes time to practice:
- Mom says that it is time for dinner, but you are on the last level of your game. What are some choices you have to keep calm and to solve the problem?
- The rule is no snacks before dinner, but you got caught eating cookies. If you could redo your choice, you would…..
- Mom said that you can ride your bike after dinner, but it started to rain so now you can’t. What can you do to stay calm?
Role model. Be the positive role model that your children need to teach them how to manage emotions and how to get their needs met. If you are a positive role model, much of the teaching will be done just by your child observing you in daily life. Children watch our every move as they figure things out. Let them see how you want them to behave.
Coping box. Create a personal coping box that contains items that will help your child to feel calm and to think happy thoughts. Paste coping skill steps to the lid to remind them of the steps to take when feeling upset. Use pictures if needed to help your child remember the steps. While they are using their calming/happy items, the coping skill steps should be used. Regularly review and practice how to use the coping box together. Check out our infographic to get you started on ideas for your child’s coping box.
Deep breathing. Taking deep breaths is a natural way to encourage physical and mental calmness. Here is a fun tip: blow bubbles to teach deep breathing. Guide your child in blowing big bubbles with a bubble wand. In order to do this, your child needs to be calm enough to be successful. Cool!
Do not give in. Do not give into the tantrum. This will only reinforce it. Ignore the behavior unless your child is hurting him/herself or another person. If your child receives no attention from their behavior, it will likely stop.
Make a simple statement. In a calm voice, tell your child what you expect from them before they will get your attention. I have found it helpful to say, “When you are sitting quietly, I will come over to be with you”. Be prepared to do this more than once, and to do so calmly each time.
Until they comply, keep your distance as to not give any reinforcement to the tantrum. Once your child is calm, talk about the positive behavior that they are currently showing and give them some other options instead of tantruming for the next time they get upset.
Stop, Think, Go. Teach your child how to stop, think, and go. This strategy supports them in stopping their actions (with prompting from you), thinking about a good choice that can be made, and then trying that good choice. Good modeling of this strategy from you along with frequent practice can help your child make positive choices.
Behavior Corner exists to empower parents to raise respectful and responsible kids. Giving information, ideas, and support like in this post is what we do. We strive to support you with lots of free information. At this point, consider the information given to you and start in one area to create change. I suggest creating a plan by selecting one of these ideas to build upon. If your child is 5 years of age or older, include them in the planning process!
As a BONUS you can get your free copy of our 11 page bonus material! You will get several behavior plan examples, tips on communicating with your kids, and the best ways to use consequences. All of these things are part of having a solid behavior plan and coping tool plan with your kids.
Comment below with your thoughts and any questions that you may have. I will personally respond to each one!
Barb, LMHC, CPC
Founder of Behavior Corner, LLC