Building a Foundation of Feelings: The Importance of Teaching Emotional Regulation


Did you know emotional regulation is not something we are born with? You may have noticed babies and toddlers have no emotional regulation. This can exhibit itself in a few ways you are likely familiar with:

·         Tantrums

·         Hitting, biting, pushing

·         Crying

In order to regulate their emotions children must first be able to recognize what they are feeling and name it. Once they can do this they will be better able to adapt their emotions according to the situation. Optimal emotional adaptation does not always mean decreasing negative emotions and increasing positive ones! It is important if a child is feeling sad or frustrated we give them the language to express that and send the message that it’s okay to feel those feelings, even important to get them out, and when they are ready we are there to coach them on how to express and manage their emotions appropriately.

How can we as teachers and parents help?

  • Model emotional intelligence!

    • Remember, children are watching your interactions with other adults all the time: your co-teachers, your spouse, the waiter at the restaurant, the front desk person at school. It is healthy and okay to have disagreements – this is a time we can show our little ones how to resolve conflicts peacefully and with respect for others.

  • Treat your child with the same respect you would an adult. In order to understand what respect is, you need to show them every day, consistently what it looks like in your interactions with them. Before picking them up, for example. ask if they would like to be held. This will help teach them that their body belongs to them and reinforce the autonomy we want to instill.

  • Be kind and firm. Show empathy and connection by labeling a child’s emotions while also setting a limit.

    • “It seems like you are really frustrated right now! But it is not okay to kick a friend. If you are feeling frustrated you can come outside and kick the ball.”

  • Read books about emotions constantly! Here are some for different ages and feelings:

    • Millie Fierce by Jane Manning

    • Don’t Think about Purple Elephants by Susan Whelan

    • The Way I Feel by Janan Cain

    • Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst

    • When Sophie Gets Angry - Really, Really Angry by Molly Bang

    • Llama, Llama, Mad at Momma by Anna Dewdney

    • I Hate Everything! A Book About Feeling Angry by Sue Graves

    • I Will Be Okay by Laurie Wright

    • When I Feel Angry by Cornelia Spelman

    • What To Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety by Dawn Huebner.

  • Ask for help!! If a child is having a particularly difficult moment and not responding to your strategies, ask for help! Sometimes children need a change of environment or a different face to help them get through their difficult emotions so they can then process them and reflect. Teachers or other parents may have solutions you have not tried when emotions are high in the moment. We are stronger when we collaborate and put our heads together to find strategies to best support our children.