Resilience in Children, Happier Homes

The Secret to Regulating Emotions

Published: 02 Nov 2023
Articles for the time-poor parent who just wants...


You can’t think straight in a high emotion state.

When you’re on the brink, it’s hard to stop and think.

These simple rhymes underscore a general truth about the quality of our thinking under stress:

High emotions equals low intelligence.

The less regulated and intentional our emotional state, the more our cognition is compromised.

Our default response to our children’s dysregulated (or simply very big) emotions tends to be that we:

  • Shut it down (“Stop it”, “Calm down”)
  • Reassure (“You’ll be fine”)
  • Require communication (“Use your words”), or
  • Offer advice (“Just listen to me!)

Experienced parents know these strategies are ineffective – but often still try them anyway.

Imagine a train entering a long, deep tunnel. Would you worriedly watch the train disappear into the dark, and then use dynamite and diggers to make a hole in the top of the mountain so you could drag that train out of the dark?

Of course not. This approach would simply make a mess. You don’t need to intervene. The train’s coming out of the tunnel at the other end. That’s how it works.

Emotions are the same (when they’re functioning in healthy ways).

Children are going to struggle with their emotions. They learn the most basic emotional regulation at age 3 (or thereabouts), and don’t become reasonably proficient with it until age 9 (approximately).

And being Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, or Stressed (HALTS) will reduce their ability to regulate emotions.

To help kids regulate their emotions try these ideas:

  1. Stay level, stable, and balanced yourself.
  2. Use emotion-labelling tools (like an emotion chart) to connect, identify emotions, and understand one another better.
  3. Ask, “Do you need a hug or do you want to talk, or would you just prefer some space?”
  4. Encourage them to breathe (5 seconds in, hold for 5, and 5 seconds out).
  5. Get active
  6. Touch the grass – get some nature

For younger children, invite them to draw their emotions on paper or card stock. Distraction can be a useful tool too.

And don’t – DON’T – try to fix everything until the train is out of the tunnel. Once the emotion has passed (and it will), problem solve solutions together.

These emotions are normal and healthy parts of being human. Learning to regulate them is a long process – one that many grown adults still haven’t mastered.

In times of emotional turmoil, the key to helping children regulate their emotions is the state of your heart as a parent. Your compassion, gentleness, and ability to shift the focus from intense emotions to a more logical and compassionate response can lead to better outcomes. When children feel supported, loved, and understood, they are more likely to control their emotions and find solutions to their challenges.

Want more?


The Happy Families Podcast
Episode #871 | The Secret to Regulating Emotions


Listen Now



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