Many children have difficulty regulating their emotions. Tantrums, outbursts, whining, defiance, fighting: these are all behaviors you see when kids experience powerful feelings they can’t control. While some kids have learned to act out because it gets them what they want — attention or time on the iPhones — other kids have trouble staying calm because they are unusually sensitive.
Learning to calm down instead of acting out is a skill that can be taught. Some children’s reactions are just bigger than their peers or their siblings or their cousins. “Not only do they feel things more intensely and quickly, they’re often slower to return to being calm.” When kids are overwhelmed by feelings, the emotional side of the brain isn’t communicating with the rational side, which normally regulates emotions and plans the best way to deal with a situation.
- Rethinking emotions: Parents can start by helping children understand how their emotions work. Some kids are hesitant to acknowledge negative emotions. “A lot of kids are growing up thinking anxiety, sadness are bad emotions. But naming and accepting this emotion is “a foundation to problem-solving how to manage them. “Parents may also minimize negative feelings, because they want their kids to be happy. But children need to learn that we all have a range of feelings. “You don’t want to create a dynamic that only happy is good.
- Validate your child’s feelings: Validation is a powerful tool for helping kids calm down by communicating that you understand and accept what they’re feeling. “Validation is showing acceptance, which is not the same thing as agreement,”. “It’s nonjudgmental. And it’s not trying to change or fix anything.” Feeling understood, helps kids let go of powerful feelings.
- Positive attention: The most powerful tool parents have in influencing behavior is attention. “It’s like candy for your kids.” Positive attention will increase the behaviors you are focusing on.
- Clear expectations: Another key way to help prevent kids from getting dysregulated is to make your expectations clear and follow consistent routines. “It’s important to keep those expectations very clear and short,” Dependable structure helps kids feel in control.
- Special minutes a day: Even a small amount of time set aside reliably, every day, for mom or dad to do something chosen by a child can help that child manage stress at other points in the day. It’s a time for positive connection, without parental commands, ignoring any minor misbehavior, just attending to your child and letting her be in charge.