By Alita Blanchard, Parent Coach
Many children often find themselves overwhelmed by big feelings, leading to challenging behaviours such as hitting, biting, sibling conflicts, hurtful words, running away, anxiety, and withdrawal.
When your child acts out, they are usually in an emotionally flooded state, possibly due to unmet needs, a build–up of painful emotions, or over–stimulation. Responses to these emotions can vary: some children withdraw, others become argumentative, some experience anxiety, and some resort to aggression.
In moments when children enter the fight/flight/freeze stress response mode, their bodies take control, causing them to exhibit behaviours that often resemble the very ones we try to curb using fear and punishment.
Many of us grew up in environments where fear and punishment were common parenting techniques. However, attachment research has shown that this outdated approach can have adverse effects on a child’s emotional and physical wellbeing. It may lead to long–term issues in teen years and adulthood, including unhealthy coping mechanisms, anxiety, depression, low self–esteem, relationship problems, and even physical illnesses.
Emotional regulation is a skill that takes years to develop and must be demonstrated.
Children learn true emotional self–regulation when they observe their caregivers model it and provide a soothing and regulated presence, a process known as co–regulation. Just as adults seek support from friends, partners, or therapists when upset, children require the same soothing and assistance from us.
Emotional regulation is not only crucial for effective parenting but also for our personal growth and wellbeing. Many of us were not exposed to healthy emotional regulation during our upbringing, making it vital to learn this skill as we navigate parenthood. Otherwise, we risk becoming more emotionally deregulated each time our child exhibits challenging behaviours.
Remember this key concept: “They are a good kid, having a hard time.”
It’s essential to understand that you cannot control or change another person, but you can change your own reactions, which, in turn, can influence your child’s behaviour.
Teaching Emotional Regulation by Example:
Children are keen observers who learn more from what they see than what they are told. They absorb everything in their surroundings. If parents consistently engage in destructive behaviours like throwing objects, slamming doors, or yelling, their children are likely to mimic these actions. Conversely, when parents can maintain composure and authentically communicate their feelings and needs, without “flipping their lid”, children learn that getting upset does not necessitate an extreme response and develop valuable self–regulation skills.
Emotional regulation is hard for many parents due to attachment wounds and trauma, so it’s important to seek support if you are struggling with anger, anxiety, fear and rage.
Creating an Emotionally Safe Environment:
The emotional atmosphere we cultivate at home significantly impacts our children’s healing, growth, and happiness. Like adults, children seek happiness and connection, but at times, fear or anger can overwhelm them. Our regulated presence provides them with a path back to a loving connection, helping them feel safe. From safety, challenging behaviours can soften.
Encouraging Emotional Expression:
When children feel safe within their home environment, they become more open to experiencing their emotions fully. This emotional awareness enables them to process their feelings and understand that emotions are a natural part of being human, without the need to act on them.
Promoting Respect and Understanding:
Children are more likely to follow our guidance when they feel respected and understood by us. They come to realise that they may not always get what they want, but they gain something even more valuable: a parent who listens and empathises, even when saying no.
Sensitivity to Moods and Tensions:
Children are remarkably attuned to their parents’ moods and tensions. Unresolved issues can trigger subconscious reactions in children. Therefore, working on our own emotional baggage often results in improvements in our child’s behaviour, even without direct intervention.
Children who feel safe and connected, do well
When a child feels emotionally safe and connected, and receives co–regulation from a regulated adult, they are more likely to do well and learn self regulation over time.
The good news is that it’s never too late for children to learn emotional self–regulation, even if they’ve developed counterproductive habits. The key lies in our role modeling.
Learning to regulate emotions is a lifelong journey. Start by simply acknowledging your own feelings. When you become upset, resist the urge to react immediately. Instead, take a moment to pause, slow everything down, long slow exhales, notice physical sensations, label your feelings, and extend compassion to yourself. This practice may be challenging, but each time you engage in it, you’re rewiring your brain and strengthening your ability to stay regulated in the future.
As you learn emotional regulation, you will model this essential life skill for your child, setting a powerful example for their own growth and development.
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Alita Blanchard – The Aware Mama Based on the NSW Central Coast, Alita is a mother of 4 boys and is a Conscious Parent Coach and Mothers Circle facilitator. She provides regular mothers circles, workshops and parenting programs. Instagram: @alitablanchard_parentcoach Email email@example.com Web www.theawaremama.com.au