How your kids can learn to control their emotions
Just like any other skill, expressing emotions effectively – in the appropriate way for the time and place – can be practiced and learned.
Let’s start with an example
Four-year-old Jada was starting to realize that there were different rules at different places and with different people in her life. She was allowed to jump on the bed at Grandma's house, but not at home. Clapping her hands and shouting in excitement seemed to be okay when her parents were reading a book with her at home, but not okay during story time at school. Running around and yelling in excitement was okay at school on the playground, however. What Jada was learning was that there are different rules, not only for what she did with her body, but also for how she expressed her emotions.
What’s going on
Infants and toddlers often express their emotions through their bodies by tensing or relaxing their muscles or by crying, screaming, smiling, and cooing. As children enter preschool, they gain more control over how they express their feelings. They may still throw a tantrum from time to time, but they’re also learning to talk and they may start using words to express their emotions if they learn how. Children’s brains are growing quickly during this time and by preschool, some children have the ability to control how they express their feelings and can use words (instead of just their bodies) to tell other people what they are feeling. However, they’re still developing this skill and learning the complicated rules of when and where and how to express different feelings.
How to help your child
Support your child’s ability to express emotions effectively by trying these tips at home:
Susan E. Rivers, Ph.D.
Susan E. Rivers, Ph.D. is a social psychologist and expert on emotional intelligence and social and emotional learning. She was a member of the Yale University Department of Psychology’s research faculty, the founding deputy director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, as well as a co-developer of the RULER framework for teaching emotional intelligence in preschool through middle school classrooms. Dr. Rivers is currently the Executive Director at iThrive, a non-profit that helps teens develop social and emotional skills, and positive psychology habits through the use of digital games.
Shauna Tominey, Ph.D.
Shauna Tominey, Ph.D., is an experienced early childhood and parenting educator with a great deal of experience in research programs promoting social and emotional skills for both children and adults. She also co-authored the book Stop, Think, Act: Integrating Self-Regulation in the Early Childhood Classroom. Dr. Tominey is taking on a new role as an Assistant Professor of Practice and Parenting Education Specialist at Oregon State University.