Child Emotional Regulation and Impulse Control
Language to use with your child during a meltdown and strategies to work on improving impulse control

Emotional regulation
What do I say and do when my child is expressing big emotions when I hold a boundary or help my child transition? The most important thing to know is it doesn’t matter much about the content of what you say to your child but rather how you are present with your child. If you have anxious energy trying to rescue your child from big feelings, your child will feed off of that. Check-in with yourself first to assess what your motive is. A healthy place to be is allowing your child to move through big feelings, modeling appropriate coping skills, letting your toddler know you are here for them, and making sure the environment is safe. 

1.  Help children recognize, identify, express, and talk about emotions. You can say, "You seem frustrated because you want to keep playing, but it's time to clean up."

2.  Provide opportunities for children to practice regulating emotions with coaching and support. You can say, "Let's try taking a deep breath together.  First, smell the flowers (breath in through your nose), now blow the bubbles (blow out through your mouth).

3.  Acknowledge and validate children's emotions. You can say, "Dropping your ice cream makes you sad, and that's okay."

4.  Verbally coach children through challenging emotions.
You can say, "This puzzle is tricky.  it seems like you're getting frustrated.  Let's take a deep breath and try it again."

5.  Model emotional responses with appropriate language and actions. Label your own emotions:  Say, "I am feeling frustrated and am going to go take a break."

6.  Provide opportunities for children to model and practice emotional regulation strategies in social interactions with peers. You can: Encourage joint make-believe play with peers.

7.  Expose children to books, TV shows, and games that talk about emotions. Like:  The Way I Feel by Janan Cain or Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood.

8.  Provide exposure to emotion words by labeling affect throughout the day. You can ask:  "How do you think they feel?" when reading a book.

Tip #1:  Remember, kids can't regulate without us first demonstrating what that looks like. Keep your cool. If you aren't able to keep your cool (totally normal - remember we learned coping skills, or lack thereof, from our caregivers, so it's not all on you!) take a break first then practice these.

Tip #2:  In a tantrum, start playing or using one of the following regulation tools and invite your child to join when they are ready (never force).  Talk calmly about what you are doing and model a calm body.  You will be surprised how quickly kids come down from tantrums.

Tip #3:  Practicing regulation needs to happen in the calm moments and not during a tantrum. The more we practice when kids are in the learning part of the brain, the more likely they will use a tool they learned during tough moments.

Tip #4.  We can't fix or avoid tantrums altogether. Our goal should be to help our child safely feel feelings and move through them to a calm state.

Games and tools to build impulse control

* Play I Spy (this is a mindfulness activity to get the brain to process simple things around you).

* Play find everything that is a certain color around you.

* Color or do color by number.

* Do finger mazes or finger tracing (find these online to print).

* Offer a snack or water (setting it next to them saying, "If you want it, I have a snack and water for you when you are ready.")

* Do head, shoulders, knees and toes.

* Sing a song and dance.

* Spin in both directions.

* Make a calm-down corner or box with fidgets, stuffies, a book, pop fidget, squishies, etc.  It doesn't need to be elaborate.  When a child is in a tantrum, start using those in that corner and invite them to join you.

* Go outside, take a walk, explore.

* Make different shapes with your body (starfish, heart, circle, letters, etc.).

* Stretch.

* Play with small miniature figures.  Keeping things small helps kids focus on details.

* Hug a stuffie or pet a household pet (if they are being safe).

* Make a mad bag - a pillow to punch, ripping paper, scratch off coloring pages, apply lavender lotion.



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