Many of the kids we work with struggle with regulating their emotions.
Inadequate emotion regulation can look different depending on the child and the situation. Often, we see kids get frustrated with a situation or peer. Sometimes kids may act out, throwing a tantrum, calling names or crying. Other times, we see them internalize their emotions by shutting down. Or even getting overly silly, like hysterically laughing or having a hard time focusing.
These types of behaviors in the classroom are often addressed as “behavior problems,” which they are. However, they also seriously impact a child’s ability to have successful relationships. Parents long for their child to have friends and want to know how friendships are going after camp or group, but it’s important to remember that without adequately regulating emotional responses, it’s difficult for a child to make friends.
What does emotion regulation look like?
Emotion regulation is the ability to cope with situations that illicit an emotional response from a person.
It could be that a friend doesn’t want to play a favorite game – or at all. Sometimes it’s a change in a routine. While these situations cause an emotional reaction in all of us, there is an expected and unexpected emotional response. According to Michelle Garcia Winner, an expected response is how others expect us to respond while an unexpected response is a response that is unexpected of us given the situation.
Oftentimes, children and teens who struggle with emotion regulation have unexpected responses. Our responses in these situations are indicative of our ability to control our emotions.
There are two keys reasons why emotion regulation is crucial for making friends.
Tantruming, yelling, hyperactivity and withdrawal are competing problem behaviors as they all compete with acquiring or using appropriate social skills. For example, if a child is overly excited and cannot attend an event, he cannot learn how to get attention from peers in a positive way. If he is throwing a tantrum, this is interfering with his use of appropriately communicating feelings.
Emotion regulation demonstrates that you are taking other peoples’ perspective. While it’s completely appropriate to feel frustrated or upset, how we act upon those feelings shows how we have considered the thoughts and feelings of those around us. The goal of social interactions is to have people thinking about us the way we want them to.
For example, when a child loses a game and engages in unexpected behavior like a tantrum, what might others be thinking? Most would probably think “Gosh, he doesn’t have good sportsmanship. I don’t think I’ll play a game with him next time”.
Tackling emotion regulation can be a challenging task. There are different coping strategies like taking a few deep breaths, practicing mindfulness, taking a walk or a break, or counting to 10 before responding.
Working on emotion regulation with your child is crucial for him or her to have successful social relationships.
Breea. M. Rosas, Ed.S. graduated from Central Washington University with a Bachelor of Arts in 2013. Her undergraduate major was Psychology, with a minor in Family Studies. She completed her Educational Specialist degree in School Psychology from CWU in 2016. She is currently a school psychologist for Federal Way Public Schools. Breea has worked with Aspiring Youth as a program coordinator/facilitator for summer camps and served on the curriculum development team. Additionally, Breea has experience working with adults of varying abilities, including autism spectrum disorder, as well youth in the school setting.