Part 3. Regulating Emotions in Children; A Series of Tips and Tools From The Family Therapy Hour

Invite Them Into Your Calm, Don’t Step Into Their Chaos,

Part 1

There are so many things I love about this idea of inviting a child into your sense of calm, rather than stepping into their chaos.  An author, speaker, podcaster I love, Jen Hatmaker, shared a story on her podcast about parenting adolescents. She talked about how teens are frequently getting on these crazy, emotional roller coasters, and reflected that though they were welcome to board that ride, she would not.  She candidly mentioned that she’d be there waiting for them once they chose to disembark, but essentially, that she was not going to join them in their crazy.  This is similar to how I see the notion of inviting a child into calm, rather than stepping into chaos, but is applicable at any age.

Children are going to have big emotions.  The prefrontal cortex which helps them regulate big feelings is not yet fully developed, and as a result, not only do they have all the “feels,” but the “feels” are BIG.  The dial that we have as adults that helps us assess whether an issue might be big or small, whether it warrants a significant reaction or not, well, they don’t really have that.  They don’t have the life experience or the higher functioning reasoning skills to know that having gold fish as a snack over graham crackers is, in fact, not the end of the world.  They just know they have this big icky feeling, they don’t like it, and they’re going to let you know ALL about it.

And, believe it or not, that’s actually a good thing.  We want our children to emote, to express their feelings.  We want them to feel safe enough to experience all of their emotions, and to let them out rather than bottling them up. 

We can’t rescue children from challenging emotions, but we can model for them what it looks like to handle them.  We can support them in naming their emotions, and hold space for them to feel their feelings.  We can model taking deep breaths to support them in co-regulation, and we can stay connected to them when they are dysregulated.  This is creating calm. 

Creating calm may look or sound like….

·      Getting down on their level

·      Saying, “I can see you’re really upset right now”

·      Reflecting “That must have felt really upsetting”

·      Saying “It’s ok to cry”

·      Taking deep breaths yourself, making eye contact, hugging

This is being a haven, a safe place for children to move through their emotions.  There is no hack for emotional intelligence.  The only way to get there is straight ahead.  The only way out, is through. But our children don’t have to walk the path alone, and the investment of time and energy in connection now, will pay off richly later. 

So, take a deep breath and stay the course. You got this. And if you need a little extra help, reach out. Our providers are here to help you and yours get back on track. Information regarding the child and family counseling services we offer can be found on our website.


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Mary Kuepper is a specialized child and family counselor at KPMH. She has been working directly with kids and families across the Kenai Peninsula for many years. Her unique approach to child and family counseling has helped many local families find the results and relief they are looking for.