What are emotional regulation strategies?
Take a deep breath, count to ten, and go to your happy place. Learn how these strategies and more can help your child regulate their emotions.
Keep Calm: 15 Emotional Regulation Strategies to Use at Home
We’ve all been there: your blood is boiling with anger, your heart is pounding with anxiety, your head is swimming with overwhelming emotions that threaten to take over your whole body. How do you stay in control?
It’s a tricky question, and one that even many adults haven’t entirely figured out. Regulating our emotions—and especially the really intense ones—is one of the biggest challenges of existing as a human being.
And it’s even more challenging for kids. Think about it: kids are experiencing the world for the first time, and this includes experiencing new emotions, too. While we might think our kids are “overreacting” to a situation, they could in fact be experiencing the most frustration that they’ve ever felt in their lives! Without knowing how to regulate those intense feelings, it’s no wonder they can get out of control.
Like any other skill, learning to regulate emotions will take time and guidance. By teaching our kids the tools they need to help keep their feelings in check, we can help prepare them for any strong emotion that may start to overwhelm them in the future.
And remember—kids learn a lot about healthy (and unhealthy!) emotional expression by observation. Modeling these exercises, or even practicing them alongside your child, can make all the difference in how they learn to use them effectively.
Here are 15 ways you can help your child learn to regulate their emotions:
Name your feeling.
Sometimes, when kids are overwhelmed by emotions, they may not even know which emotion is overwhelming them! Spend some time teaching your child to identify their feelings, so that they know exactly how to handle them.
Separate “I am” from “I feel.”
When we’re overcome with emotion, it can feel like we are our feelings—and that can be difficult to escape. Instead, we can practice reminding ourselves that emotions are temporary, and do not define us. While we might be feeling angry or anxious now, we know that we won’t feel that way forever.
Practice talking about your emotions by using the words “I feel” instead of “I am.” For example, instead of saying “I’m angry at you,” encourage your child to say “I feel angry because…”
Make expectations clear.
Be sure that your child understands exactly what is and isn’t okay when it comes to expressing their emotions. Many children have the misconception that they’re not allowed to feel angry (likely because they associate anger with unacceptable behavior, like yelling or hitting).
Explain to your child that it’s always okay to feel any of their emotions, but that there are limits to how they can express their feelings safely and respectfully. This may include expectations for behavior (such as “no hitting”), or for logistics (i.e. “you can take a 5-minute break to cool down on your own, and then I’ll help if you need it”).
Go to the Calm-Down Corner.
Having a physical space dedicated to social-emotional learning can make a huge difference for kids. By having a cozy and safe environment to experience their feelings, kids can make emotional regulation a part of their daily routine.
Spend some time creating a small space in your home dedicated to emotional regulation, and be sure your child knows they can go there any time they need.
Count to 10 (or 25, or 62…)
Sometimes, all it takes to regulate our emotions is to occupy our minds with something else for a short time. Counting is a great method for kids to do just that!
Make it more fun by counting to a silly number, counting backwards, counting by two’s, or even counting in different languages.
Use fidget tools.
When our thoughts and emotions are overactive, it can help to have something to do with our hands. Particularly for feelings of anxiety and restlessness, using a fidget tool can help to let out some of that excess energy so that our mind can settle. This emotional regulation strategy has been around forever!
There are a ton of different fidget tools out there, from squeeze-balls to spinners and everything in between. But you can also use tools you have at home, such as a stretchy hairband or a remote control with the batteries removed. Or, you could always make one from scratch!
Make a Calm-Down Bottle.
The Calm-Down Bottle is one of my (and my students’) favorite fidget tools, and it’s almost as fun to make as it is to use!
When you feel angry, anxious, frustrated, or overwhelmed, just shake the Calm-Down Bottle as hard as you can. Then, watch as the sparkly contents drift to the bottom… and by the time the glitter has settled, so have you!
To learn how to make your own Calm-Down Bottle at home, watch our tutorial here.
Use breathing exercises.
“Take a deep breath.” It’s a tried-and-true method for calming our emotions, but did you know that there are lots of different ways to practice breathing for emotional regulation?
Take long, slow, deep breaths to help calm down when you’re feeling angry or anxious. Take short, quick breaths in to help yourself feel more energized—and then let it all out at once.
Make it even more fun for your child by breathing like different animals—big, deep lion’s roars and short little bunny sniffs!
Move your body.
Physical movements can help clear our minds and let out any excess energy from our emotions. Try regulating high-energy emotions, such as frustration, with high-energy movements like running or jumping.
The sky is the limit when it comes to kids and physical movement! Yoga breaks, dance parties, and mindful walks around the neighborhood are all fun and healthy ways to regulate their emotions and calm their minds.
Emotional regulation strategies can take all shapes! We especially love getting active and we can always feel the positive energy when our mind and body is happy.
Talk it out.
This can be especially difficult for kids, who may not yet have the vocabulary to express exactly how they’re feeling. But that doesn’t make communication any less important—and, in fact, these moments are great opportunities to teach kids the emotional vocabulary they’re missing.
Some kids may not feel comfortable talking about their emotions to another person right away. Encourage them to talk to a non-human friend instead, such as a pet or stuffed animal. This can be just as therapeutic (and perhaps even more so, because there won’t be any interruptions or misunderstandings)!
Add this as an emotional regulation strategy for healthy long-term habits.
We know that mindfulness is an effective tool for improving focus and attention, but did you know it can also help kids (and adults!) regulate their emotions?
Practicing mindfulness on a regular basis can help kids learn to focus their mind completely and eliminate distractions—an invaluable tool in times of emotional distress. Mindfulness encourages kids to be totally aware of their thoughts, instead of getting overwhelmed by them.
Find your happy place.
You’ve heard it before: “I need to go to my happy place.” Usually this means we need to take a break from whatever is happening around us, to prevent our emotions from getting out of hand.
A happy place can be anywhere, and it doesn’t even need to be real! Spend some time helping your child visualize their own happy place, and explain that they can close their eyes and “go” there whenever they start to feel overwhelmed.
Have an especially artistic kiddo? Have them draw their happy place and display it somewhere on the wall, or in the Calm-Down Corner!
Put it in your pocket.
Sometimes, our emotions overwhelm us at a time when it’s less than ideal to express them. In times like this, I like to remind kids that we don’t need to let our feelings take over, and we don’t need to push them away, either. Instead, we can save them for later.
Have your child grab a “token” to represent their feeling—a fidget tool, a coin, a small toy—and put it in their pocket until they’re in a time and place where it’s appropriate to express how they’re feeling. This way, they know their feelings aren’t being dismissed or forgotten (and they can use the token as a fidget while they wait).
Write a letter.
Just like talking it out, writing down how we feel can be very therapeutic in helping us to regulate our emotions. Whether they’re upset at a specific person or a situation, encourage your child to write a letter explaining how they feel.
After writing the letter, kids don’t need to actually give it to the recipient… and in fact, they usually shouldn’t! Instead, set the letter aside to revisit it later when they’re ready to talk about what happened.
Make it beautiful!
Creating something new can be an excellent way to express our emotions, and the process of being creative can actually make us feel better, too!
Whether they’re completing a coloring page, mashing clay into a sculpture, or splattering paint onto a canvas, there’s no limit to what kids can create when they’re fueled by emotion.
Of course, every child and every situation is different, so some strategies may be more beneficial for your child than others. Try them out, and see what works!
We hope you enjoyed this read on some useful emotional regulation strategies! Be sure to follow us on social media for more learning tips and fun language learning content!