Part 1. Regulating Emotions in Children; A Series of Tips and Tools from the Family Therapy Hour

As a counselor who specializes in work with kids and families, a common theme that arises in my sessions is how to help kids manage their emotions.  Parents often share with me regarding emotional outbursts, tearfulness, tantrums and issues with impulsivity involving their children.  In this series of blogposts, I’ll be outlining some of the most common topics of conversation that emerge in sessions with parents of young children.  As an entrepreneur with a family of my own, I have designed these blog posts to be short and sweet.  I hope that you are able to glean some nuggets that help make your world go around a wee bit smoother as a result.

 Developmentally Appropriate Behaviors In Kids

For the first blogpost in this series, I wanted to highlight developmentally appropriate behaviors.  This issue is nearly always at the forefront of my conversations with parents, and what I have learned is that often times, our expectations for children are unrealistic.

The reality is, a child’s prefrontal cortex, or their “upstairs” brain, for those that have read Parenting Strategies for Raising Children: Brain Basics 101, is not fully developed.  And, heaven help us, won’t be until a young person is in their mid twenties.  This part of our brain helps us to do all of the higher functioning things that make us human.  The prefrontal cortex is where we consider cause and effect, regulate big emotions, practice empathy and manage our impulses, just to name a few.  If you can’t seem to understand why your child is doing the exact opposite of what you’ve told them to do, this very well may be why.  They may really want to do as you asked and stay away from those freshly baked cookies on the counter, but the prefrontal cortex which helps them manage their impulsivity and consider the consequences of their actions, is not yet operating at max capacity.

Now, I’m not advocating that we have no standards and that we run an “anything goes” kind of household, but I do encourage parents to remember what a developmentally appropriate expectation for a young child actually is. For more detailed information on what developmentally appropriate behaviors look like given a certain age, this article on Hey Sigmund, Phew! It’s Normal. An Age by Age Guide for What to Expect From Kids & Teens – And What They Need From Us, is an excellent quick read for reference.

Additionally, it’s important to remember that repetition is key.  Children, just like all of us, are building new neuropathways all the time. What you say, over and over and over, will sink in.  But it will require patience and repetition on your part.  So, take a deep breath, take heart and stay the course. You got this.

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Mary Kuepper - Family and Child Counselor

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.