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Taking Action: Cultivating Emotional Regulation in Children

Taking Action to Cultivate Your Child’s (and Your Own) Ability to Successfully Regulate Emotions

When young children need to regain their cool try this:

  1. Stretch out one hand like a star in front of you.
  2. Get your other pointer finger ready to trace around the fingers of your outstretched hand.
  3. Take a practice breath, slowly breathe in through your nose and let it our through your mouth.
  4. Slide your pointer finger up the outside of your pinky while take a slow breath in through your nose.
  5. As you exhale through your mouth, slide your finger down the other side of your pinky. Try to finish exhaling just as you reach the bottom.
  6. Keep going until you’ve finished with all your fingers and thumb.

You can find printable pages with suggestions like this to help young children manage big emotions here.

Print a feelings thermometer for your fridge.

Glitter Jars are magical, especially when trying to shift attention away from thoughts and emotions, the basic goal of all mindful practices. Whenever we bring awareness to what we are experiencing with our senses, we are being mindful. When we do this simple act, our minds calm down. This is a jar filled with water, clear gel glue, and ultra-fine glitter. You shake it and the glitter settles slowly, which is very relaxing to watch, providing something to focus on in order to relax.



  • A clean empty water bottle, with label removed, that will fit in your child’s hands
  • Clear gel glue
  • Super glue
  • Glitter
  • Hot water


  • Fill the bottle about 3/4 of the way with hot water, then add a bottle of glitter glue and a small tube of glitter.
  • Screw on the cap and play with the mixture until it takes about five minutes (our standard time out time!) for the glitter to settle at the bottom of the bottle. Add more clear gel glue to make it go slower or more water to make it settle faster.
  • Super glue the cap onto the water bottle so it can’t come off in your child’s hands.


Coping Skills for Managing Emotions is a useful guide for helping a parent reflect and respond to a child’s emotional outburst. These tables provide helpful cues and responses.

When care givers… This helps …
1. Observe

Don’t say anything. Watch first. Pay attention to the situation. What was the build up? (e.g., what happened before the child displayed their emotion?). Watch for facial expressions, tone of voice and posture, as well as listening to what the child is saying to get a complete picture.

Adults to have a better understanding of:

· what the child may be experiencing and why

· how the child expresses their emotions.

Click here for all of the cues and responses.

Older children need coaching to help them learn how to manage their emotions. Don’t fall into the habit of being the solution to your child’s problems, your role is to coach them:

  1. When you child is calm, sit down with him to label and validate what he is feeling. Listen, don’t judge what they are feeling. Try to reflect and restate what he is telling you so that you show that you understand what he has said.
  2. Don’t mistake validating his feelings with accepting his behavior. You have to deal with bad behavior. While you want to let your child know that what he is feeling is okay, you can’t accept or condone his actions, especially if they have hurt someone else. “I see that you’re angry and frustrated. I can understand that, but you can’t take it out on your sister.”
  3. Brainstorm with your child ways that he might solve the problem that upset him. Include talking about ways to prevent or avoid the situation in the future. Remind him of ways to “step back” from his emotions and not let them control his actions. Help him to break big problems into more manageable parts. Remember that you are the coach here; don’t step in and manage what he does. Support his efforts, cheer on his incremental progress, be there when he stumbles, and celebrate his accomplishment when he resolves the problem, even if it isn’t a completely happy outcome. He needs to know that the process of working it out can be as important as the result.
  4. Acknowledge his growth when he next faces a similar problem and handles it better. You’re the cheerleader as well as the coach.

Communications are key to giving your child the skills needed to emotional regulation :

  • Make time for talking with and listening to each other. Family meals, time outside together and care rides are some opportunities for these conversations.
  • Don’t skip talking about hard or negative emotions. Be open about the full range of feelings and give your child the vocabulary to express everything he feels. Make sure he knows that it’s okay to have bad or negative feelings and that in your family, no one judges what anyone else feels. By talking about feelings, he’ll learn the difference between feeling something and talking about it. Books, television and movies, the nightly news, and family reminiscences all present opportunities to have these conversations and develop words to describe feelings at a safe distance from what your child may be feeling, especially if those feelings are especially strong.
  • Pay attention to body language and non-verbal messages. These cues may be your opening to start a conversation about what your child may be feeling at the moment and ways to respond to and manage those emotions.
  • Work together to solve problems. Working together on building or fixing something is a good way to teach a lesson about frustration that isn’t burdened by emotional baggage. Next time you’re ready to scream at the computer or remote, ask your child to explain the solution to you, to help you solve your problem. She may be the calm and rational one in the family at that moment. If your child is doing something that makes you crazy, sit down with her and make a plan.
  • Be honest; with your family, with others and with yourself. Acknowledge and apologize for your own mistakes, especially if you’ve lost your cool. Praise your child’s honesty (but don’t skip the consequences if any are called for). Emotion Coaching: One of the Most Important Parenting Practices in the Universe

Further Reading and Additional Resources

Raising Emotion Intelligent Kids and Teens: Anger and How to Be the Boss of Your Brain: Anger is an emotional and physical response. When something happens to make you angry, your brain thinks it has to protect you from danger so it releases chemicals – oxygen, hormones and adrenaline – to fuel your body so it can fight the threat or run from it.

Social Emotional Development Checklists for Kids and Teens

10 Tips to Help Your Child with Anger

Practical Steps for learning skills for Managing Your Feelings, includes material from The Self-Esteem Workbook for Teens: Activities to Help You Build Confidence and Achieve Your Goals by Lisa M. Schab, LCSW.

A helpful article about Anxiety in Kids

How to Explain Mindfulness to Kids

How to Practice Mindfulness with Kids is a website with many resources for understanding mindfulness and integrating mindful practices into your family.

Managing Big Emotions with Kids: Printable Resources has links to posters you can print out to post on the fridge door to help young children learn how to manage their emotions.

These YouTube videos are helpful to share with your child

An easy to understand YouTube vide for kids and their families explaining Why Do You Lose Control of Emotions.

Take 5 Breathing for Kids: YouTube Video (A technique for calming)

What Your Child Needs Most When They’re Angry: Helping Kids Manage Big Emotions (YouTube)


For parents of teens

Teen Flare-Ups: What You Need to Know to Make a Difference helps explain teenage brain development.

Hormones Affect How Teens’ Brains Handle Emotions explains the role played by testosterone in the teen brain.

That Teenage Feeling: Biological Clues to Quirky Teen Behavior

Experiencing Teen Drama Overload: Blame Biology includes an excerpt from the book Getting to Calm: Cool-Headed Strategies for Parenting Tweens and Teens.

Emotion Coaching: One of the Most Important Parenting Practices in the Universe

Help your teen by making sure they get enough sleep, limit screen time at night, diet, exercise, recognize signs of depression: Help with Teenage Mood Swings

Read this if you’re awake at night wonderful if you’re too tough on your teen:

What Adolescents Really Need from Parents explains how parents can help younger teens avoid depression and anxiety as they become more independent.

Keeping things in perspective and maintaining a sense of humor:

It’s a Magical World: 7 Essential Parenting Lessons From ‘Calvin and Hobbes’