Emotional Regulation to the Rescue

By: Cary Zavala/

Emotional Regulation to the Rescue


“I never planned to yell so much.”  As a therapist, I heard this from many moms and dads.  As parents, we admit we sometimes come to the “end of our rope.”  With the stressors of daily living, our children’s challenging behaviors can sometimes send us to a “10” quickly on the Feelings Thermometer.  If you missed this month’s Parent Network Early Childhood Education Series, our topic of the evening was emotional regulation.  Strategies were shared that can help us “dial down” our negative emotions.  Negative emotional states can interfere with communication and relationships and weaken our effectiveness as parents.  It is important to have tools in our parenting toolbox to help us identify and regulate our emotions.  Some key points:


  • We are not typically taught much about emotions…and managing emotions is a skill that can be learned

  • There are family issues (and issues with children in particular) that increase stress and negative emotions (frustration, anger, worry, sadness/depression)

  • Letting negative emotions get in the way can make bad situations worse, especially when another person is involved

  • There are a variety of strategies that can help us manage our emotions and return us to a more relaxed, calm state

    Disengage physically

    -Take a break (leave the scene, go to own room or bathroom, walk, go outside) and plan ahead to know how you will structure this to keep young children safe

    -Watch TV; call a friend

    -Send child to time-out

    Disengage mentally

    -Count under your breath

    -Watch TV

    -If the environment is overstimulating, turn some things off!

    -Take deep breaths (check out this fun Sesame Street clip for belly breathing) 

    -Take a mini-vacation! Recall a pleasant scene (perhaps a beach, the woods, a meadow, playing in the park)

    -Listen to music, work a puzzle, clean, read, meditate

    Families gather for dinner before the Parent Meeting Starts. Dinner and childcare is provided for each meeting for free.

    Lighten the situation

    -Use humor

    -Change the subject

    -Offer choices, all of which are acceptable (for younger children two choices works well – “this or that”)

    Empower yourself

    -Tell yourself  “I can manage this” and “Let it go”

    -Plan ahead and prevent the problem

    -Respond, don’t react

    -Slow things down

    -Prioritize; identify what’s most important at the moment and take smaller steps

    Join the Other Person

    -Try to understand the other’s perspective (“stand in their shoes”)

    -Intentionally try to connect with the other person (perhaps a “time-in” is appropriate)

    -Actively listen

    Life with young children is both rewarding and challenging. We can all do a bit better job at making time to “fill our own pitchers” so we have something left to pour out into our children and families – and with our emotions better regulated.

    Think about what you already do that helps you relax and get calm when stress is beginning to rise.  Then consider one or two other strategies you could practice this week.  Emotions are going to come up and it can feel like we are on a roller coaster!  Put your self back in the driver’s seat by knowing YOU CAN regulate your emotions…which has a powerful and positive effect on the way you parent.  A big thank you to GREAT START for giving parents their own copy of  “My Friend is Sad,” by Mo Willems. What a wonderful book to teach children about emotions and ways to help them manage. See you next month!

    (Emotional regulation information taken from Implementation Sciences International, Inc.)

Cary Zavala

… is a licensed professional counselor and a skilled parenting educator. Cary is joining with Lenawee Great Start in presenting a series of Parent Education talks during the 2017-2018 year (register here to attend!).

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