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There are lots of emotions that we all experience such as happy, sad, and angry plus others. We experience these emotions in response to our thoughts and feelings and because of what is happening around us. We are all different so the same thing could happen to two people and yet they could both feel totally different emotions.

Regulating our emotions is a skill. Some of us learn to regulate our emotions as we grow up. For example, when a child spills their drink they may be distraught, but as they grow up they no longer become upset by this and instead learn to pick up the cup, clean up the mess and get a new drink. We are all different so some people find it easier than others to regulate their emotions. It is also important to remember that at times everyone struggles to manage their emotions.

Younger children in particular will need your support to regulate their emotions. This can also be true of older children, particularly in times of crisis.

There are many reasons why some children find it harder to self-regulate than others, including:

  • Adverse childhood experiences in early life, such as being adopted or looked after, prolonged stressful events, poverty, or other traumatic experiences.
  • Children who have additional needs, e.g. social communication difficulties, ADHD or sensory processing difficulties.
  • Temperament – some children are more reactive than others.
  • Physical needs not being met, e.g. hungry or tired.

Top tips

  • Modelling – it is important for adults to regulate their own emotions, before addressing their child’s. If we are stressed as we go to help, we will not be as effective.  Even if emotions are rising inside, it is important to present a calm front to the child.
  • Co-regulate by providing a warm, responsive relationship with the child, which will in turn, teach them skills to self-regulate. To co-regulate effectively, you need to get alongside the child in their time of distress, reassure them and acknowledge their feelings, using a soothing voice and calm manner. It’s important to focus on the emotion and not on the behaviour (i.e. the anger rather than the action).
  • Use empathy to acknowledge their feelings.
  • Talk about emotions – how we all experience different feelings, it’s normal and it’s how we manage them that’s important. Use story books, songs or games to make it fun.

Things that could help

The Children’s Society have a range of age specific resources to support work on managing feelings.

Behaviour Matters website: Emotions matter – helping children to self-regulate