Emotional Regulation in Children

By Cydney Germany - 12/13/2021


Self-regulation is not a tool we are born with. According to the self-regulation theory when it comes to what we think, feel, say, and do, it is pertinent in that specific context to make a suitable decision when we have a strong desire to do the exact opposite. (Baumeister & Vohs, 2017) Self-regulation is a skill that needs to be learned like; language, riding a bike and problem solving. Raising a child to regulate emotions is a significant aspect of parenting. This skill contributes to the emotional intelligence that is needed in everyday life. In adulthood, there are crucial abilities needed that are acquired during child development.

Self-regulation is one of the four branches that make up emotional intelligence which consists of skills like understanding emotions, using emotions, perceiving emotions and regulation. Emotional regulation can be defined as one’s ability to express and experience emotions in an appropriate manner. For an example, a proper response to receiving negative feedback on a college paper would not be yelling at the professor and storming out of the classroom. Yes, the individual is expected to be upset however, should be able to internally process intense emotions and assess ways to apply themselves for future success. Doing so would be a sign of problem solving and being able to engage in healthy compensatory strategies to manage uncomfortable emotions when necessary. Problem solving, understanding and accepting an emotional experience are skills that are a result of emotional regulation. It is also important to note that the understanding one has of their own emotional processes allows them the capability to practice empathy in interpersonal relationships. Self-regulation is a tool that teaches children social awareness which allows them to take on other’s perspective which is needed to build meaningful relationships. There are several benefits that stem from emotional regulation therefore teaching these particular skills to children is such an essential responsibility.

Furthermore, there are specific aspects in life in which children need to be able to self-regulate. Maintaining socially acceptable behavior requires children from preschool age (four to five years old) to school age (five to twelve years old) to have emotional regulation skills. This ability will assure that they control inappropriate impulses. Some impulses can be disruptive in school which can disrupt the learning environment. Impulses such as; blurting things out randomly without waiting for the proper opportunity, not taking turns during play time, not sharing toys and expressing emotions in inappropriate ways. Impulses like these will also make it hard for kids to socialize and adapt to their environment. Children who have strong social skills typically have a more positive outlook on attending school because they have a healthy social environment to look forward to. During these early stages in life children need to build on their social skills for success in their adolescent and adult years.

Additional factors that make teaching self-regulation such a priority is the natural motivation of good behavior and acquiring coping skills without much assistance from the guardian. The outcome that we strive for as parents is to raise a child that can positively function in society. This includes giving your child the tools to make good decisions about their behavior and learn how to behave in new situations with less guidance from their guardians. As parents, we should allow our children to be open about their emotions and model the behavior that is socially acceptable. The positive outcome is giving children the potential to properly manage stress, learn to cope with strong feelings and having the ability to calm themselves after getting angry. Over time parents who are actively teaching positive emotional modeling and discussing emotions, it is most likely that the child will gain coping skills that will benefit their social behavior for the rest of their lives.

Identifying Emotional Dysregulation in Children

There are various signs to pay attention to when identifying dysregulation in children. In that respect is typical behavior that is noticed in children when it comes to social behavior and cognitive functioning. From infancy to age six it is expected to see children throw tantrums due to them not being capable of controlling emotions in response to being upset, frustrated and disappointed. It is expected for that type of emotional response to dissipate by age six on. However, children who are emotionally dysregulated tend to continue throwing tantrums in reaction to being dissatisfied. So as opposed to experiencing something that maybe upsetting and being able to properly manage those emotions with learned coping skills. You will notice that the self-dysregulated child exhibits disruptive behavior such as yelling, crying uncontrollably, falling onto the ground, etc. Without the competence to self-regulate, in response to anger a child may act out aggressively by inflicting pain on to themselves or others. With this considered the probability of the child being deemed as deviant for expressing abnormal behaviors and emotions increases due to dysfunctional patterns halting them from functioning suitably in society. As well as, dangerous because of the way they are handling their distress.

If emotional dysregulation is not corrected, a chain reaction of other unfortunate outcomes can potentially follow. Such as difficult, out of control behavior becoming more frequent and intense as the child gets older. If the misbehavior and unacceptable emotional responses are not acknowledged and corrected by the child’s caretakers, it is likely to continue. It is important to tackle these problems early on before negative reactions become behavioral patterns, thus, making it difficult for parents to properly discipline their children. “Dysregulated emotion is characterized by excessive and rapidly shifting emotions, often associated with irritable and aggressive behavior, and high rates of comorbid oppositional defiant disorder.” (Stralen, 2016) Nonetheless, affective discipline such as, consistent punishments along with dialogue regarding the issue, is one of the most effective ways of teaching emotional regulation in children.

Emotional dysregulation identifiers in children is also noticeable when paying attention to their social conduct including; withdrawal and problems socializing. When a child’s behavioral patterns do not align with what is developmentally appropriate, they have a tough time fitting in with their peers. The child dealing with this problem can begin to have a negative outlook on participating with others. If they cannot socially relate to their peers due to their underdeveloped emotional process, the child could have a hard time making friends and building social skills that are needed for their future. This issue will affect the child’s development of communications skills as well, which goes hand in hand with socializing. Problems communicating is potentially the worst outcome when it comes to children having emotional dysfunction. Due to them having strong negative emotions and not being able to express them properly which in turn could be expressed with aggression as discussed previously. It is normal for everyone to go through frustration, however when lack of coping skills and knowledge to properly express that those emotions are present, it starts to build up which can lead to a negative outcome. Guardians should avoid these problems with children’s emotions because in the real world it becomes an issue for society to deal with.

How Self-Regulation Improves Resilience and Mental Health

Self-regulation helps improve resilience and mental health in children. Resilience is a method attained by individuals that allows them to adapt well when confronted by stress, trauma and adversity. Children gain resilience with using effective coping skills, having a support system, competence, having a sense of control and confidence. The support system needed primarily comes from the immediate family of the child, as well as peers, teachers and mentors who have a huge influence on their lives. Competence comes from lessons learned in life from others and past experiences. Confidence is acquired when the youth is able to use their competence in real-life situations and see positive outcomes that result from their actions. This then leads to their sense of control in life, because their actions are being predetermined based on the reaction they are desiring. In order to accomplish any of these levels of resilience, the child needs to have emotional regulation skills and vice versa. A study referring to the role resilience and self-esteem plays when it comes to behavioral and emotional problems, found that resilience plays a protective role when considering emotional and behavioral problems in children. (Arslan, 2015) Children are much more capable of designating through their lives independently with self-regulation and by being resilient. These skills make it possible for children to function in society in the face of hardships. Using effective emotional-regulation skills allow children to have a higher tolerance dealing with distress and are expected to gain more resilience as they are confronted with issues over time.

How Parents Can Promote Emotional Regulation

Parents and guardians are the strongest influence in their children’s lives. Albert Bandura, Ph.D. created the social learning theory explaining how behaviors are influenced to an extent by reward and punishment. However, in most cases like teaching language, driving and of course acceptable behavior modeling is the best teacher. Since children learn mostly through modeling, parents should value the way they express behavior around their children. Therefore, their own ability to regulate emotions is one of the first emotion-related modeling children witness. Kids learn about how to properly respond in different situations by watching parent’s emotional interactions and display. Using emotional expression as an opportunity to connect with your child and teach them it is ok to express your emotions properly. This way they are not only shown that it is good to express yourself, but also know they can discuss emotions with their family. Children should always know they have a strong support system and how they can use them in a time of need. When using this technique to build emotional skills, it is also quintessential to label emotions that they maybe feeling. For an example, if the family dog runs away and a child is saddened and upset, it is a significant time for the guardian to address what those feelings are and how to accept the turn of events. This is a way of teaching children to accept their emotions in effort to normalize emotional expression. A mistake made by many parents is minimizing or denying emotions their child is expressing; even at low intensity. All emotions should be identified and addressed by parents when teaching emotional regulation.

Raising children to have strong social-emotional skills requires thoughtful work from the child’s family and environment. Emotional skills begin in the home with healthy and consistent parent–child interactions. The relationship that children have with their parents is a part of what builds the foundation of knowledge that they will carry for the rest of their lives. Children’s emotional regulation is heavily influenced by parenting styles and family’s emotional climate. So, it is important for parents to practice authoritative parenting by being responsive to the child’s emotional needs while having high standards and proper discipline. Being attentive to a child’s needs is what will motivate them to be open about their emotions. With practice of openness of emotions, that will help build emotional regulation skills. A healthy home environment with family is a substantial aspect when it comes to assisting the emotional development of a child. There should not be any at home stressors like yelling and fighting that can cause anxiety. Plus, that type of behavior can teach children to do the same when they are expressing themselves. Children should be raised in a home that is viewed as a sanctuary. With such support coming from the family, quality emotional development is expected to be the outcome. It is important to teach children to self-regulate to become emotionally mature and build healthy social connections. Guardians who are raising children are to be educated on the importance of emotional regulation, how to identify emotional dysregulation, regulation improvement and ways in which they can teach these skills to their children. With all things considered, emotional regulation is a necessary skill for children to have in order to prosper in society.


Arslan, G. (2015, October 28). Psychological maltreatment, emotional and behavioral problems in adolescents: The mediating role of resilience and self-esteem. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0145213415003257.

Baumeister, R. F., & Vohs, K. D. (2017). Handbook of Self-Regulation: Research, Theory, and Applications. (3rd ed.). New York: The Guilford Press.

Stralen, J. V. (2016). Emotional dysregulation in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. ADHD Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorders, 8(4), 175–187. doi: 10.1007/s12402-016-0199-0

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