How many times have you heard a parent, teacher or caretaker shout those two words at young children? Or perhaps on a particularly exasperating day, maybe you were the one doing the shouting.
When I have the chance, the question I always ask is: have you taught your children how to calm down? So far, the answer is always “No.” I don’t know how we expect our children know how to engage in the complex process of social-emotional regulation, when we have not taught them or we have not learned that process ourselves.
Self-regulation is about paying attention to what is happening inside and outside of ourselves. It’s about paying attention to our unique way of interacting with the world and managing the positive and negative stressors in life. Our bodies and emotions are the primary indicators of how, and if, we are managing ourselves.
I’d like to offer the following suggestions for teaching young children to self-regulate. I am assuming that you as parent, teacher or other caretaker have learned or are practicing your own healthy strategies for managing stressors and calming down.
- Teach your children to use words to name their emotions. You can find free feelings charts online. Have children color their own and keep them in a visible place at home.
- Ask your child “What does your body need?” When you notice your child is excited, restless, bored, angry or sleepy, help them figure out what they are physically experiencing. Maybe their tummy is tight. Maybe their heart is racing or they are breathing fast. Maybe their eyes feel floppy. Help them figure out what they can do to help with that feeling.
- Teach your child to stop and take 5 big breaths when they have strong feelings. Practice this before a child needs to use it. One way to remember to practice throughout the day is to choose something you do several times each day, like going up stairs, putting the seat belt on, drying wet hands. Every time you and/or your child does this activity, also take 5 big breaths in and out. Have them note how much better they feel. When strong emotions come up, you can have your child take 5 big breaths and feel better again. Do it with them.
- Get some bubble solution and blow bubbles. Did you know it’s impossible to be stressed and blow bubbles at the same time?
The most important way to teach your child to manage or regulate themselves is by modeling healthy self-care and regulation skills, yourself.
One excellent resource for adults who want to learn more is: Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children by Thich Nhat Hahn.
If you would like some support with healthy self-regulation or teaching your child these skills, give us a call at Aurora Family Service (414-342-4560).