Sometimes, feelings can be overwhelming for children. Anger, fear, shame and even joy can be so strong that kids simply act out of impulse in response, at times hurting others in the process. Fully experiencing our emotions is good thing — but so is regulating our response as not to harm those around us.
Emotional regulation is the ability to effectively manage and respond to emotional experiences. In children, it is linked to better concentration, improved social relationships, and even stronger academic performance.
These activities can help kids calm themselves when they are overwhelmed by their feelings:
Deep breathing is a relaxation technique that immediately calms the body. Have kids focus on their breaths, visualizing the air entering their body, moving down into their core, and out again. Ask little ones to hold up five fingers and blow them down, one by one, like candles on a birthday cake.
COUNT TO TEN
Have kids imagine each number in their heads, painting it with a thick brush or drawing it with crayons. It is a great technique for giving kids space to stop and think before reacting. Need more time to calm down? Quietly whisper the alphabet.
These activities provide a combination of deep pressure and physical restraint. Kids can place their hands deep in their pockets or sit on them for a count of ten. “Sticky Hands” is activity whereby kids clasp their hands and push them together for a slow count of ten. Tell your child to slowly release and see if they can feel the “stickiness”.
SQUEEZE AND RELAX
Have kids make fists, squeeze their arms to their bodies, and raise their shoulders to their ears — and then relax. It is a good way to recognize and relieve tension, and take the focus off feelings, providing a space to think. Using squeeze balls can help, too.
PUT YOUR FEELINGS IN A BUCKET
Have kids imagine gathering their big feelings from their bodies (like their tummies or faces) and putting them in a bucket. Have a real bucket on hand for little ones to better imagine the activity. With big feelings in a safe place, kids can make space for thinking and calming down. Once kids have settled down, they can go back and collect their not-so-big-now feelings.
DRAW A PICTURE
By expressing themselves through art, children not only find a vehicle to express their emotions, but may also find the means to articulate and communicate their thoughts.
LISTEN TO MUSIC
Listening to a favourite song or playlist is very calming for many children. Audiobooks, relaxation recordings or other soothing sounds can be equally helpful. Some kids do not need further stimulation when overwhelmed — as a parent, you will know best whether to turn on the music, or keep things quiet.
ASK FOR A BIG HUG
Learning to ask for help is an important skill for children. One of the best activities to help calm an overwhelmed child is to hug them closely. Hugs provide deep pressure, a bevy of calming sensory cues (think mom’s special smell), a safe place for hands to hold tight, built-in squeezing and relaxing action, and more.
If you live in Hong Kong and your child needs help managing his or her emotions, please contact us. We have individual and group sessions that can assist kids in improving emotional regulation skills.