5 Powerful Strategies to Teach Young Kids to Control Their Emotions

Calm and In Control of Your Emotions

boy running a race in a relaxed mood, he has learned how to control his emotions
Photo by Rafaela Biazi on Unsplash

It may surprise parents, but kids do not naturally know how to calm down so that they can control their emotions.

The good news is that this is something that you can teach.

Some kids learn how to control their emotions by watching their parents.

While others need direct instruction and support to understand what to do.

This is a life skill that is well worth the effort to train your child on how to handle stress, anxiety, emotional outbursts, disappointments, and other negativity that is all part of life experiences.

Use these 5 strategies to help your child understand how to react when their emotions take over. And don’t wait for the toddler tantrum stage to begin, you can start with very young children.

Parent Mind-Set

It goes without saying that parents who self-regulate, act as role models for their children. Your calmness will influence the way your child approaches situations.

Unfortunately, parents who have outbursts are teaching their children that it is okay to take your emotions out on others.

Your mind-set is also reflected in the way you direct your child. Expect that your child will need assistance in self-regulation. After all, when teaching your child to walk, you were more than willing to provide your hands as support as they wobbled along until they gained the confidence to try it on their own. Encouragement, along with some guidelines, will result in a child who can manage their emotional responses.

Be as positive and as matter of fact as you can be, especially during a melt-down. Keep your responses short and non-judgemental. Hopefully, during playtime, you have conditioned your child how to act in anticipation of a crisis. If you have used something like “time for your cool-down tent,” in a playful situation, use the same phrasing for any melt-down. You can expect compliance because you have practiced with your child what to do.

Minimize Any Physical Triggers

It is unfair to expect your child to self-regulate when there is an over-riding physical need. If your child is having a melt-down, do consider some physical triggers first.

If you know that they are hungry when you pick them up from daycare, plan to have a snack ready for them in your car.

Being tired can also ignite angry feelings. Stick to your sleep routine whenever possible.

Temperature can also be a factor. If your child is too cold or too hot, they often do not think of how to regulate their body heat. You will need to help them add or remove clothing to get more comfortable.

It is possible to overstimulate your child with too much screen time, a busy mall, or many children at the playground. Watch for signs of anxiety or stress and remove your child from these situations to a calmer place whenever possible.

And sometimes your child may be dealing with a minor illness. It is up to you to manage the symptoms of a fever, or pain due to teething.

What to do During the Melt-down

  1. 1. If your child has melt-downs, consider physical factors first, and plan to avoid any physical triggers.

2. Verbalize why you are using these strategies so the child can understand what is going on. You can say, “You seem to be getting too hot with your sweater on. Let’s take it off to help you cool down.” Your kids need to understand that their physical needs can trigger negative emotions. By verbalizing what you suspect is happening to your child, you are giving them the context to understanding the connection between their physical needs and emotional responses.

Self-regulation is a skill you can teach in a variety of ways. One very effective method is to inform your child about how physical needs can influence their behavior. Eventually, you can prompt your child to take care of their physical need by saying something like this. “It has been a long time since breakfast; let’s have a snack.”

Make Emotions Visible to Your Child

The first step in learning how to control your emotions is to recognize that you are getting angry, jealous, happy, or sad. You can help your child with this by labeling when emotions are evident and help your child understand what is happening. It will take time for a young child to correctly identify the emotions of others and even more time for them to recognize these same emotions in themselves.

“We approach self-regulation skills in the same way we approach other skills, academic or social: isolate that skill and provide practice,” Bezsylko explains. “When you think of it as a skill to be taught — rather than, say, just bad behavior — it changes the tone and content of the feedback you give kids. ” Child Mind .

There are many resources to help your child recognize different emotions. Some are special storybooks, cards, and even videos.

The Way I Feel: The board book has fewer feelings than the paperback book, but it has the basic human emotions. In addition, this book presents the feelings in a non-judgemental manner. Children need to understand that feelings do happen but it is what you do about them that makes the situation positive or negative.

Feelings in a Flash: There are 50 cards in this set. With very young children start with 3 to 5 very identifiable feelings and then build on the nuances as they mature. Along with the cards come some strategies on how to manage the feelings.

Inside Out: Guessing the Feelings: These are sections from the movie “Inside Out”. They clearly identify the feelings and some of the causes for these basic feelings. You could also watch other sections of the movie for more samples of feelings.

Set up a Calming Area:

Instead of giving your child a time -out, provide them with a calming space. Teach them to use the area when they are angry, stressed, or sad.

Get started by selecting an area in your home together where your child feels comfortable. Make sure it is isolated from other family members. Perhaps it is a corner of the house that is seldom used, maybe it is in a kid’s tent.

In the calming area, you can also include a calming toolbox that holds fidgets, sensory items, calming activities, cards to show calming techniques such as how to breathe to calm yourself, and cards of physical exercises to release energy

Self Calming Cards You can make similar cards yourself or purchase these as a base for the calming area. Each calming method includes suggested activities for a range of ages, from toddler to adult.

Fidget Toy Set: You can build your own set of fidgets or buy this collection to try. Offer 2 to 3 different types to see what will work with your child. Change the fidgets, if they are not used by your child. Try these fidgets out in a non stressful time to show your child how they can be helpful. From their initial playtime with the various toys, you will be able to select the 2 or 3 you think will work.

1, 2, 3 Calming Area

Practice where there is no emergency – just for fun, direct your child to the calming spot , have them stay there for 5 minutes and then reward your child for following your request. Your direction should be said in a quiet voice, and it should be short – “Time for the calming tent” is a good example. Or “Calm-down time.” or “Take a break in the calming spot.” Or “Take a break in your cool-down place.” Make this into a game that you repeat many times before you try the same direction at the beginning of a melt-down.

In the case of a melt-down – direct your child with the same words and tone you used during your practice sessions. Repeat this mantra until your child complies. Ignore any negative behavior until the child moves as directed. Praise them for reaching the calming area but do not engage them. You could say, “ Thanks for going to the calming tent.” Or “Good idea to sit in the calming corner.”

If your child goes to the area by themselves, make sure you reward them for doing so. You could say, “I see you are in the calming zone, that was a wise choice.”

Use Specialized Media to Help You Explain Concepts: Storybooks and Videos

You can choose to explain the calm-down place and techniques yourself or you can use a suitable storybook to introduce the idea.

Calm-Down Time: This board book is suitable for young children. It introduces the idea of deep breathes as well as a special private area for your child. This is perfect resource to explain a way of dealing with explosive emotions. It teaches self-regulation at an early age.

Emotional Regulation for Kids: This is a video for parents. You can learn 4 strategies to help your kids in times of stress. Practice each until you are comfortable in explaining it to your child.


Set the 4 calming Strategy cards out in your child’s calming area, or you can carry a set with you to use on the go. Remember to give your child a choice of which one they want to use. Choice is a powerful way of showing that you are there to assist them instead of telling them what to do. To simplify you may just want to present 2 choices and then expand the number you offer.

Keeping Calm- with Hunter and Eve: You can watch this video with your child to teach using strategies to be calm. In times of a crisis, you can call on Hunter and Eve to provide a concrete example for your child as to what to do.

WHAT TO DO – AND WHAT NOT TO DO

Knowing what to do as well as what not to do is important to the success of this strategy. Prompt your kids when you see signs of a melt-down – Use an empathetic tone but expect compliance. It might sound like this “It seems as if you are getting upset, go to your calming area.”

Eliminate any negativity in your directions. Don’t say, “We don’t like it when you are angry. Calm down.” Instead, give them a direction that shows they understood what you said. You can direct them by saying, “Time for your water beads first, and then we can talk.” That way, you can see if they do eventually go to the calming spot where their water beads are. If you observe any resistance, walk away, so you give your child time to comply with your suggestion.

If the tantrum continues, wait until it has subsided and give the same direction again, so that your child knows that you are not backing down. Be firm and consistent, but give your child time to respond.

No one claims that a calming area will be an easy strategy to implement nor may it be the answer to all tantrums, but it is worth the effort to implement it for the mental health of your child. You spend a lot of time supporting your child’s physical and academic intelligence. Emotional intelligence is just as important.

Self-regulation will help your children their entire lifetime.

It will take time and patience, but it is worth it.

A calming area can be a significant step in the process.

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