Teaching Your Kids Emotional Skills

Nobody likes when their child has a temper tantrum. Whether at home or in public, an angry child can be intense and difficult to handle. But what can parents do to prevent these outbursts? A temper tantrum is often a sign that a child is dealing with overwhelming emotions that he/she cannot fully express. Therefore, one way to help kids overcome tantrums is to teach them skills about managing emotions.

First, it is important to know which skills both adults and children need to successfully manage their emotions. These skills include noticing emotional reactions, understanding the reason behind the emotion, practicing self-soothing, and utilizing self-control. Noticing and understanding an emotion allows a person to process what they are feeling and the events that led up to their reaction. This helps a person come to conclusions about the relevance of the emotion, how to manage it, and how to resolve the situation. While these first steps are internal skills, self-soothing and self-control are the skills that help a person control their external behavior. Self-soothing are behaviors that help a person calm down from an emotional high. These can be as simple as taking a walk, reading a good book, eating a favorite dessert, or watching a beloved show. Using a self-soothing technique and attempting self-control allow a person to rein in unwanted emotional expressions or outbursts.

One primary way that parents can help their children develop these skills is to be a good role model. Children, especially younger ones, notice how their parents react to situations and mimic what they see. This process, called modeling, can spell disaster if parents do not have good emotional regulation themselves. Children will pick up on raised voices, angry gestures, and impulsive actions. These parental reactions implicitly teach the child that these negative expressions of emotion are appropriate. However, parents who have good emotional regulation will model positive behaviors and proper emotional expressions to their children. Therefore, it is important for a parent to cultivate good emotional control in their daily life. Parents should identify the skills that give them the most trouble and work on further building them.

Another way to promote good emotional regulation is to talk children through their emotional reactions. Whereas modeling is the implicit way parents teach their children emotion regulation, talking though emotions with children is a more explicit method. When parents notice their child having a strong feeling, they should seize the opportunity to work on emotion regulation. First, parents should help children label their emotion, which could be as simple as saying, “Hey, it sounds like you are feeling sad today.” It is recommended to use a variety of emotion related words in this step to help children understand the different types of emotions possible. Second, parents should empathize with their child’s feelings. This allows the child to feel understood and validated as they enter the step of managing their emotions. Lastly, parents can assist the child as they deal with their emotion. Parents can help the child figure out what they should do to feel better and problem solve how to deal with this situation in the future.

Emotion regulation is a tool that can help parents understand and control emotional responses- even ones as frustrating as temper tantrums. However, with a little time and effort, these skills can lead to happier and healthier children- and happier parents!

 

References

Eisenberg, N., Cumberland, A., & Spinrad, T. L. (1998). Parental socialization of emotion. Psychological Inquiry9(4), 241-273.

Gottman, J. M., Katz, L. F., & Hooven, C. (1996). Parental meta-emotion philosophy and the emotional life of families: Theoretical models and preliminary data. Journal of Family Psychology, 10(3), 243-268.

Gross, J. J. (1998). The emerging field of emotion regulation: an integrative review. Review of General Psychology, 2(3), 271-299.

Kostelnik, M. J., Whiren, A. B., Soderman, A. K., & Gregory, K. (2006). Guiding children’s social development: Theory to practice (5th ed.). Clifton Park, New York: Thomson Delmar Learning.

Morris, A. S., Silk, J. S., Steinberg, L., Myers, S. S., & Robinson, L. R. (2007). The role of the family context in the development of emotion regulation. Social development, 16(2), 361-388.

Winnicott, D. (1965). The capacity to be alone. In The Maturational Processes and the Facilitating Environment (pp. 29-36). London: Hogarth Press.

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