There are a few areas in parenting where, I think, I’ve done a pretty good job. One of those areas is teaching our children to self-regulate – even if we’re still on the beginners level. As a Latina, I know how previous generations have sometimes told us that “children should be seen and not heard,” but I want my children to be seen and heard as they deserve to have that respect. I also want them to be able to communicate their feelings and control those feelings. While I’m not a professional, I do think that I’ve learned quite a bit about helping my children learn how to self-regulate their emotions through my own experiences with therapy and of course the sometimes beyond useful internet. Here are a few strategies that we use in our home to help develop self-regulation skills.

Encouraging Emotional Awareness

The first step I take in teaching self-regulation is helping my children name their emotions. Once we can differentiate what emotions lead us to think and feel, it becomes easier to work through those feelings. 

For example, I was called a “mean mommy” for not giving one of my children a treat because they failed to complete a particular task after three warnings. I allowed her to call me “mean” because I know she was acting out of frustration for not receiving something. Once that moment passed, I sat with her and shared how I know she wasn’t telling me something to hurt me, but that she was feeling a certain way about her own actions and what that cause. We then looked at our mood book and realized that she was feeling sleepy/tired, so we worked through that and how to share that with me so I understand that she needs a break to rest. 

Using Coping Techniques for Big Emotions

Once my children can identify their emotions (or work with me to name those emotions), it’s time to teach them coping strategies to regulate their feelings. A few of our favorites include breathing exercises and muscle relaxation. Between deep breaths and using our calm down box (a small bin of fidget toys), we can usually slow down our minds enough to have our bodies slow down, too. 

For example, when we are beyond the early stages of intense emotions, I pull out “balloons.” These are imaginary balloons, but we all take a balloon and stretch it and then take deep breaths to blow it up. Sometimes not everyone wants to participate in  blowing it up, but it does cause everyone to become distracted enough that we can start bringing the energy down. Once we have the energy lowered, we work through more techniques to not stifle our emotions but problem-solve or settle them in healthy ways. 

Do as I Say AND as I Do

By far the hardest part of teaching self-regulation has been learning how to control my own emotions. We are our children’s first teachers, so they will learn by seeing how we react. I have already been told a handful of times that if it’s “okay” for me to act a certain way why isn’t it okay for them. I have no excuse, so I admit my mistakes and I even share what I should have differently done. By admitting that I’m still learning, I can show them that they don’t need to strive for perfection when it comes to self-regulation.

Teaching our children to self-regulate their emotions is a valuable investment in who they’ll become one day. Remember to be patient, consistent, and compassionate – with both yourself and them – while you celebrate each step forward.

Seeking Professional Help: In some cases, children may struggle with self-regulation due to underlying issues such as anxiety, ADHD, or trauma. If you notice persistent challenges despite everything you’re doing, consider seeking guidance from a pediatrician, therapist, or school counselor. These professionals can offer personalized strategies and support to help your child overcome obstacles and thrive.