Emotion regulation strategies and how to find your calm in the classroom blog header

Emotion regulation strategies and how to find your calm in the classroom

In a recent webinar, we were joined by Marcelle Waldman, educator and founder of My FeelLinks! Marcelle is certified in youth mental health first aid and has extensive knowledge in child psychology and development. She shared deep insights into what exactly a child is experiencing in their brain when they are demonstrating big emotions and what co-regulation strategies educators can use to support a child in these moments. We gained actionable insights on how to strengthen children’s social-emotional development and increase their confidence. 

The emotional cup 

We all have an emotional cup. Sometimes it’s filled, and sometimes it spills. A child’s emotional cup is filled when they feel safety, love, security, and attention. 

What fills an emotional cup? 

  • play
  • friendship
  • one-on-one time
  • affection
  • love
  • succeeding
  • security
  • safety
  • calm
  • doing what they love
  • choice activities
  • adequate sleep

What spills an emotional cup?

  • stress
  • strain
  • loneliness
  • isolation
  • failure
  • fatigue
  • yelling
  • punishment
  • rejection
  • forcing activities

It’s when a child’s emotional cup starts to spill, or even empties, that we start to see challenging behaviors. 

Behavior is communication 

It’s important to understand that there are no “good” and “bad” emotions, instead we want to recognize them as pleasant and tough emotions. 

When we understand how a child’s challenging behaviors serve as communication, we can devise strategies that teach the child to communicate in more desirable ways.”

Glen Dunlap, Ph.D

When we see children experiencing tough behaviors such as aggression, misplaced anger, and tantrums, it’s our job to be an “emotion detective” – to find out what is going on below the surface to cause the behaviors.

The behaviors we see are our children communicating with us. As educators, it is our job to figure out what is hidden below the surface so that we can better support them. Children are not just trying to get our attention, there is always something going on. 

Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Viktor Frankl

Connecting in the tough moments

When things feel tough and emotions are heightened, we have a choice of how we respond in that moment. The most important thing we can do is find our calm and respond thoughtfully, resisting the temptation to react quickly without thinking about the outcome.

Follow these steps when faced with tough moments: 

child showing emotion with caregiver
  1. Feel it. Let the child feel the emotions. Do not push the emotions away. Validate them. 
  2. Show it. Let your child show how they are feeling. Displays might come in tears or anger. Emotions must be displayed, not feared. *In a situation where a child is behaving in an unsafe manner, be sure to act quickly in that scenario.
  3. Label it. Labeling emotions is critical. We need to teach children how to label their own emotions. This will also help your child become empathetic toward others’ feelings. Your child may also be experiencing a mix of feelings. You can coach younger children by saying things like, “I can see in your face/body you look like you might be feeling…”.(FeelLinks Journal and Dolls set are hands-on tools to support these skills).
  4. Watch it go. Even the most difficult emotions do not last forever. Let your child know that their emotions are valid, and they will pass. Discuss how one experience can feel one day, but the next time it might feel different.

Remind children that as they grow and change, so too will their experiences and feelings. The more our children learn about emotions early on, the more self-aware and socially aware they will be throughout life. Understanding their own and others’ emotions will benefit them in numerous ways, including greater self-confidence, motivation, empathy, teamwork, and more!

Ways to support children when times are calm 

The need to support children in tough moments such as tantrums is obvious, but it’s also important to connect with children when they are calm and collected. Recognizing the pleasant emotions can be just as beneficial as recognizing the tough ones. Here are a few ways to help children do that:

  • Teach the signs. What happens in our bodies as we feel different emotions?
  • Model and teach regulation strategies
  • Keep routines
  • Show empathy from day one; be consistent
  • One-on-one time (filling up the emotional cup)

20 Emotion regulation strategies 

Happy child eating
  • Ask for help
  • Breathwork
  • Coloring/drawing
  • Counting
  • Connecting with an adult
  • Food
  • Fidget/squeeze toy
  • Get outdoors
  • Hydrate
  • Journal
  • Listen to music
  • Movement
  • Muscle tightening
  • Naming feelings
  • Puzzles
  • Read
  • Rest
  • Self-talk
  • Take a break
  • Talk to someone

Navigating life in a complex world 

We live in a complex world and you have a very important job to do. Labeling an emotion helps to tame an emotion. The more we can teach children to label how they are feeling, the more they will understand how to manage their emotions.

Remember: 

  • Have compassion for yourself
  • No need to solve it all, showing up for your child is number one. There is wisdom in stepping back, watching, and learning what children are showing us 
  • Emotions are valuable information 
    • They help children develop comfort with tough emotions
    • Encourage an understanding of their own feelings and knowing what to do with them
    • “I can survive the tough stuff”. If your children can understand that they are able to get through the tough stuff, they build self-confidence. 
    • Successfully dealing with life’s ups and downs – this is building resilience

If we can learn to struggle, we can learn to live.” 

Magda Gerber

Remember your why and develop your actions to support emotional regulation in yourself and your children. You have the heart. Remember that modeling and being a compassionate, safe place for your child is exactly what they need!

Watch the webinar that inspired this blog post here

Want to learn more about important topics in early education such as hiring and retaining educators? Sign up for the next webinar below, it is FREE! Even if you can’t join live, you will be emailed the recording and slides just for registering!

Marcelle Waldman

Marcelle Walman lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with her husband and two children. She is a certified K-5 elementary educator, having the incredible opportunity to teach some of our youngest learners in kindergarten and preschool, and also served as a preschool director. She is Youth Mental Health First Aid certified, has extensive coursework in psychology, and child development. She is also the owner and creator of FeelLinks; a small business strengthening children’s social-emotional connections and confidence. Marcelle is a parent and community educator - focused on children, brain development, behaviors, emotions, emotional intelligence, and overall emotional health and well-being. As an avid community volunteer, she has served on her school’s PTA board as vice president and president, contributed to many School District committees, currently sits on the Issaquah Schools Foundation programs committee, and volunteers for the Ladybug House, an end of life, hospice and palliative care program. Find out more at myfeellinks.com. Follow along @myfeellinks on Instagram and Facebook.

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