Our ability to regulate our emotions is deeply intertwined with our ability to control our behavior. These abilities are even more intensely coupled for young children. Emotion regulation is core to how we, both adults and children, cope with heightened levels of emotions. These heightened emotions can be either positive or negative. How do we manage to remain focused at work on a Friday when we are excitedly looking forward going on vacation over the weekend? How do we keep our cool when we are stuck sitting in traffic hour after hour, week after week? How do we remain sensitive and nurturing caregivers to our children feel out of control?
We regulate our emotions, that’s how. We regulate our emotions in order to keep our behavior in line with achieving our goals. This can be difficult for children and adults alike. It can be hard not to eat that last cookie in the package when your goal is to eat healthy. It can be hard not to completely fall apart when it’s time to put the toys away for lunchtime when you really want to keep playing.
Parents play a pivotal role in helping their young children learn to regulate their emotions. They do this by providing their child with the tools to eventually regulate their emotions on their own, and a safe space to practice using these tools. By remaining calm and emotionally available with your child though their upsetting emotions, parents create this safe space. Simply put, staying regulated ourselves allows us to co-regulate our children. You are sending your child a strong message when you do this:
“You are going to be okay. I am going to stay with you through the hard times, and love you even when you feel out of control. I’ll help you be okay until you can do it yourself.”