Emotion Regulation

Emotion Regulation | OC Revive

Importance Of Modeling And Understanding Emotion Regulation

Emotion regulation is the ability to exert control over one’s own emotional state. It may involve behaviors such as rethinking a challenging situation to reduce anger or anxiety, hiding visible signs of sadness or fear, or focusing on reasons to feel happy or calm. Unlike children, adults are expected to be able to manage their emotions, especially anxiety and anger, in a manner that is socially acceptable. When emotional control fails, people often say or do things they later regret and wish they had been able to keep their emotions in check.

Emotion Regulation | OC Revive

While there are many ways to influence one’s emotional state for the better, emotion regulation often involves what experts call “down-regulation,” or reducing the intensity of emotions. A grieving person might down-regulate his sadness by recalling something that makes them smile. An anxious person may cope by distracting themself from the thought that is causing their anxiety, diverting their thinking to a peaceful place to center themselves. Emotion regulation can also include “up-regulation,” or amping up one’s emotions, which can be useful when faced with imminent danger or a serious challenge that calls for a healthy dose of anxiety elevation.

The process model of emotion regulation emphasizes that people can act to control their emotions at different points in time—including before they feel an emotion, also known as antecedent-focused emotion regulation, and after they have already begun to react emotionally, or response-focused emotion regulation.

Two Broad Categories Of Emotional Regulation:

Reappraisal refers to thinking differently about a potential stressor event, to manage better the emotional response

Suppression refers to diminishing or inhibiting the emotional expression when facing the same emotional event. Suppression has been linked to more negative outcomes

Emotion Regulation | OC Revive
Emotion Regulation | OC Revive

What Are The Hardest Emotions To Control?

What Emotions Do For You:

Emotion Regulation | OC Revive

Why Is Emotional Regulation Important?

Emotion Regulation | OC Revive
Emotion Regulation | OC Revive


Be mindful of parenting style

Use “when” & “then” statements

Broken record approach

Give choices when setting limits or consequences

Natural Consequences

Planned Ignoring

Express what you want, not what you don’t want

Emotional Regulation In Children

Emotional regulation is not a skill we are born with. Toddlers’ moods can swing like a pendulum. Helping our kids learn to self-regulate is among parents’ most important tasks.

Emotional regulation or self regulation is the ability to monitor and modulate which emotions one has, when you have them, and how you experience and express them. Learning to self-regulate is a key milestone in child development, whose foundations are laid in the earliest years of life. A child’s capacity to regulate their emotions affects their relationships with family and peers, academic performance, long-term mental health, and their ability to thrive in a complex world.

Relationships With Family & Friends

A child who cannot self regulate and throws tantrums constantly puts a strain on the parent-child relationship. This can impact the climate of the whole household, including siblings, extended family, and everyone around them, and lead to a negative spiral.

The same goes for friendships. Kids who don’t have the ability to control their feelings or behavior can have a harder time making or keeping friends. The inability to self-regulate emotions can lead to traits like anger, aggression, withdrawal or anxiety. This can snowball into further negative consequences: Children who are rejected by their peers are at increased risk of dropping out of school, delinquency, substance abuse and other behavior problems​. Studies show that those who are withdrawn and rejected by peers are also more likely to be victims of cruelty and bullying​.

Performance & Success In The Future

In contrast, good emotional regulation in children not only positively impacts relationships, but acts as a strong predictor of academic performance and future success. Effective emotion management allows a student to focus on performing during tests and exams, rather than being impaired by panic and anxiety.

Students who self-regulate have greater attention spans and problem-solving capabilities, and perform better on tasks involving delayed gratification, inhibition, and long-term goals.

This effect carries on throughout their lives. An adult who did not learn to master emotional regulation early in life enjoys less job satisfaction, leading to financial struggles, suffers from poor mental health and sadly, lives a life lacking general well-being​.

Emotion Regulation | OC Revive

What Are The Barriers To Emotional Regulation?

How Does Emotional Regulation In Children Develop?

So how do kids develop this critically important skill? And how can we as parents help them?

Some kids have a harder time learning emotional regulation skills than others. Researchers have found that some babies’ temperament is innately more capable of self-regulating than others, indicating that biology plays a role.

But while genetics are important, the environment plays an equally, if not greater role. The capacity to self-regulate is not set in stone, even if genetics are in play. Most children have the capacity to learn to manage their feelings, when exposed to an appropriate environment, but those who have not received proper modeling from adults have a harder time developing these skills.

Why Childhood Life Experiences Matter In Learning Self-Regulation Skills

When babies are born, their brains are not yet well developed. We can think of their brains developing a bit like that of building a skyscraper.

The architectural blueprint may give the building its shape, but the outcome will vary greatly depending on the materials used and the contractors carrying out the construction. Similarly, genetics determine a basic blueprint for a child’s brain development, but their life experiences, like the building’s construction materials, can profoundly influence the structure, resiliency and overall design.

And just as it’s easier to impact the skyscraper during the building phase than to reconstruct it later, so can human brains be better equipped to develop the ability to carry out certain skills better during certain periods in life. These optimal times are called sensitive periods or critical periods, generally taking place in early childhood through the age of 25.

After the sensitive period of learning a skill has passed, there is a gradual decline in the ability to become proficient in that skill. It is still possible to acquire a new skill, but it will take longer for the person to master it.

What Roles To Parents Play Helping Children Acquire Emotion Regulation Skills

Our brains regulate the nervous system in our body. In times of stress or danger, it activates the body’s fight-or-flight response. When faced with a stressful situation, this response is activated, allowing our bodies to move fast by speeding up our heart rate, shutting down digestion and upping blood sugar for quick energy. When a baby or child gets agitated, this system is in full gear and the emotions are high.

Conversely, there is a calming or dampening system, which slows down our heart rate, increases digestion and conserves energy. This calming part of our nervous system can counter the high speed effect created by the fight-or-flight system, and it’s crucial in controlling our bodily functions and emotional well-being.

When these systems are acting in balance, our bodies run properly and we are in emotional control. But when the systems are out of balance, we need to draw on our self-regulation techniques to bring them back into a healthy state.

Since the fight-or-flight response is critical for human survival, it is no coincidence that the instinct to accelerate develops before birth. Every parent knows that newborns are capable of getting worked up enough to alert parents to their needs by crying.

The newborn’s ability to self-regulate is not as well developed at birth. Infants have limited self-regulation capability available, such as thumb sucking, hugging a blanket or visual avoidance. They can only self-soothe, however, to a certain point, especially if they’re extremely agitated or if whatever is upsetting them doesn’t change (loud noises, being left unaccompanied, feeling trapped, hearing parents fighting, hunger.)

When babies cry uncontrollably, it’s like they are driving on an emotional runaway car with no brakes! It is up to parents to help them regulate their “brakes” because their nervous systems are not yet fueled to drive this emotion alone.

How To Help A Child Emotionally Regulate

While many factors, including teachers, schools, neighborhoods, peers, culture, and genetics, can influence a child’s ability to regulate, parents and family play the most critical role.

Factors that influence a child’s ability to control their emotions.


Modeling has long been recognized as a crucial mechanism through which children learn. Kids observe their parents’ every move, internalizing and then mimicking their behaviors.

Their parents’ own ability to practice self-regulation is among the first emotion-related modeling children see. Kids watch how parents control and struggle with intense feelings and impulses.

Children of parents who struggle with emotional regulation are more likely to end up having emotional dysregulation. If a parent is reactive, screams or yells whenever something goes wrong, the child learns to be reactive and misbehave when things don’t go their way. If a parent is calm when solving life’s problems, the child learns to stay calm and look for solutions instead of blame. The younger the child, the stronger this imitation effect will be.

Emotional Contagion: How We Teach Our Children Well-Being

Emotional contagion occurs when someone’s emotions and related behaviors lead to similar emotions and behaviors in others. In children, they are infected by the emotions and behaviors they see and learn from their parents. Let’s look at two examples of emotional contagion.

1. You come home from a hard day at work, feeling tired and down. Opening the front door, you are hit with the sights, sounds, and aromas of a dinner party in progress. You see family and friends smiling, laughing, sharing stories and food. Right away, your mood brightens. You forget your troubles and are soon smiling and laughing with the rest. You’ve just experienced a form of emotional contagion.

2. You walk through the door after a hard day at work. Your wife screams that she needs your help with the baby. You scream back that you’re tired. The baby sitting in the high-chair, the “thing” neither of you wants to deal with, feels that anger and senses that stress. The baby screams and cries. The baby just caught your reaction to emotional dysregulation. That emotion and behavior is now wired into your baby’s brain. This is also an emotional contagion.

Emotion Regulation | OC Revive

Resilience And Mental Health

Those who learn to regulate their emotions in childhood are equipped, as adults, to better handle and bounce back from trauma and adversity: They have a tolerance to stress and are overall more resilient. Given all this, it’s not surprising that experts consider emotion regulation skills or self regulation skills essential for children to develop into happy, productive and mentally healthy adults. Rigidity, inflexibility, and resistance to change are common in young children. A younger child may, for example, insist on using the same cup or cereal bowl at every meal with no clear reason for this preference. They may insist that you go through their bedtime routine (read the same book, sing the same song) in the same way every night. Failing to honor their requests or deviating from a consistent routine may result in emotional meltdowns or behaviors that are out of proportion to the given situation.

As a child’s brain develops (particularly the prefrontal cortex), they typically gain the cognitive flexibility and emotional regulation skills to cope with unwanted changes in their environment. Their rigid behaviors may eventually cease, and the memories of this “terrible two” behavior will come to be remembered through cute anecdotes of toddlerhood that are somehow funny in retrospect. Still, although it may be developmentally normal, rigid or inflexible behavior in children can be frustrating and disruptive for families in the heat of the moment. There are several strategies that parents can implement during these difficult times to help your child regulate their emotions and address the rigid behavior or resistance to change?

1. Prepare your child for any different or uncertain situations by telling them exactly what to expect. Use visual aids such as a book that you made or purchased or even YouTube videos that depict the situation.

2. Although it is important to validate and accept your child’s feelings, you do not want to accommodate unreasonable rigidity by avoiding any situations that make your child uncomfortable. Instead, you want to gradually and incrementally introduce changes into their day, starting with those that would be least upsetting and building up to more significant changes. These changes should be communicated to your child before they happen. If their favorite plate is not available because you are not home, for example, warn them about this change in their routine in advance.

3. Teach your child coping skills to manage their frustration and anxiety related to rigidity. A younger child could be encouraged to do some deep breathing or go to a quiet space. If the child is older, you could help them choose a new plate and point out how it might be fun to try something new.

4. Help your child to develop a “Plan B” for any uncertain situation and discuss in advance how they will manage their frustration and disappointment when “Plan A” does not work out.

5. Teach your child the concept of their brain feeling “stuck” and model how you would cope with that kind of feeling yourself. For example, you could say “I can’t stop feeling angry at myself that I burned dinner tonight. I’m going to take some deep breaths and then remember that everyone makes mistakes and that it was no big deal since we were able to order pizza – which turned out to be more fun anyway!

6. Finally, remember that a tendency to be more rigid is also associated with many important strengths, such as an ability to pay attention to minor details and to focus on one topic for an extended period of time. Although it can be frustrating at the time, it may eventually help your child to achieve their goals.

What Is The PLEASE Skill & How Can It Help?

PLEASE is an acronym to help people remember a set of skills that can make emotional regulation easier. The idea behind the PLEASE skill is to take care of your basic needs so that you can make healthier decisions and be less vulnerable to emotional disruptions.

PL: Treat Physical Illness – Research continues to demonstrate a strong link between physical and mental health. If you are physically ill in any way, it can make emotional regulation and decision making much more difficult. By taking care of your body, you take care of your mind as well.

E: Balance Your Eating – Unfortunately, mental health disorders like anxiety and depression can make it difficult for people to eat healthy meals on a regular basis. As difficult as it may be, eating a balanced diet is an important part of the PLEASE skill. When you give your body the nourishment it needs, you are better able to cope and regulate.

A: Avoid Mind-Altering Substances – It’s important for anyone living with a mental health disorder to avoid using mind-altering substances unless a doctor prescribes them. These substances include alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, medications prescribed to other people and illegal drugs. Though they might feel like they’re stopping the pain, these substances may have the exact opposite effect, and can keep you from being able to use coping mechanisms effectively.

S: Get Enough Sleep – An unhealthy sleep cycle can throw your physical health off-balance. While many people get too little sleep, some people with disorders like depression can get too much sleep. It’s important to find a healthy balance to give your mind the best chance at emotional regulation.

E: Get Regular Exercise – The mental and physical health benefits of getting regular exercise are backed by decades of research. It can help treat underlying physical illnesses, regulate sleep patterns, and improve emotions.

None of us can provide a perfect home, genetics or modeling. Expecting perfection from ourselves or our children may actually increase tension and negativity.

What we need to do is to keep working on our own emotional regulation and strive to create a supportive environment so your children can learn to mirror these healthy habits and behaviors too. It’s never too late to start.

Take a deep breath and enjoy the ride.

Emotion Regulation | OC Revive

Get in Touch

Get More Info By Filling Out The Form Below

Call Now
Take the First Step.
We'd love to meet you.

We work with most insurance plans as an in-network or out-of-network provider.

aetna insurance logo
Blue Cross Blue Shield logo
anthem insurance logo
Emotion Regulation | OC Revive

Get Help Now

Admission Coordinators are available 24/7.
Take Control Of Your Life and Call Now.

Allyson Lake

Case Manager