As a parent, I knew it was important to help my children learn about their feelings and to regulate their emotions. As a professional, I continue to learn why self-regulation is so important to a child’s overall health. Self-regulation is the ability to manage our emotions and behave in an appropriate manner in a situation. It takes time and practice to develop. Sensory activities, fun and games can help! Research tells us that managing our emotions and our behaviour is key to overall well-being and is linked to success in social and educational settings.
Everything I read indicates that parents are essential in supporting a child’s lifelong learning in self-regulation. Self-regulation is learned through warm, nurturing and responsive interactions with our children. This attachment develops and grows through our relationship and connection with our child.
Children experience stress and feel all emotions! Children become excited and gleeful as well as nervous and furious. Children learn to manage these emotions by watching those around them respond to challenges. When parents model positive strategies, such as taking deep breaths, counting to 10, engaging in a physical activity and taking care of themselves, children copy these strategies and benefit from the calm energy flowing through their system.
There are many ways parents help their child learn healthy expression of emotions. Teaching children the names of their emotions and how to recognize what they are feeling is one way. Helping children identify what their body is feeling when experiencing stress and intense emotions and then choosing to do something to manage that feeling, such as pretending to blow up a balloon to encourage deep breathing, is also helpful. Playing in water, creating with playdough and participating in activities that engage senses are fun ways to help children return to a state of calm.
Spending time together reading stories and talking about how characters respond to challenges and encouraging turn-taking through playing cards and board games are also ways to support children as they learn to understand and manage their emotions. Ensuring children regularly get enough sleep, are provided with nutritious snacks and meals, and have plenty of opportunities for active outdoor play provides children with energy to manage strong emotions.
Dr. Stuart Shanker tells us the more energy children have within their systems, the more they are able to self-regulate. When children can identify what they are feeling, they can express those feelings and parents can help children find ways to manage them. Self-regulation promotes emotional health and overall wellbeing!
For more information on self-regulation, check out Dr. Stuart Shanker.
By Jan Gaudet, R.E.C.E., B.A.
Ontario Early Years, London West
London Children’s Connection