Deeply feeling children experience emotional intensity at a profound level, which can often be overwhelming and challenging for them to manage. Emotional regulation plays a crucial role in assisting these children to understand and effectively navigate their emotions. The integration of emotional regulation activities within their daily routine using tools like our emotion regulation chart can enable them to cope better, ultimately enhancing their emotional well-being. Keep in mind that we all experience distress sometimes. Life is not always easy, so we don’t want to send the message that big emotions should never happen or aren’t okay.
The goal is to teach your child how to manage their own internal experience to tolerate big feelings and move through them, and that requires practice. Just like building any other skill, there will be times when it doesn’t go well. Remember that they’re learning. They’re not experts, and meltdowns are bound to happen.
The key as the parent is to remember that it’s not personal. Remind yourself that your child’s mind is developing, and how you interact with them is the most important and impactful part of healthy development.
Learning Tools: Get Our Printable Worksheets and Feelings Wheel Chart to Build Emotional Literacy
Download our worksheets to support your child’s social-emotional learning. These regulation strategies and coping skills are valuable educational resources to foster emotional literacy for kids and parents alike.
Whether used to teach calming skills or as a self-guided learning tool in your calm-down corner, these printable coping strategies based on behavioral therapy will help kids feel those big feelings.
Click below to get our Visual Support for Kids Feelings.
Do a feelings check-in with your Child: Using the Emotion Regulation Chart printables and Feelings Chart for Kids
An emotional regulation chart is an efficient tool for promoting self-awareness among deeply feeling children. It helps them identify and manage their emotions proactively. The chart includes sections for emotions, triggers, coping strategies, and self-reflection. Depending on the age of your child, you may use some or all of the tools provided.
You can read through the wheel of emotions and talk about what each of them means to your child, helping them identify their emotions. Use this visual support when you talk about which emotions the child identifies with, discuss what makes them feel that way (triggers), and encourage them to think about effective coping strategies for each emotion or trigger. Regular self-reflection is important for evaluating progress and adjusting strategies as needed.
The emotions chart is a resource for your child to use during moments of heightened emotions. Teach your child how to recognize their triggers and use the corresponding coping strategies. Reviewing and discussing the effectiveness of the strategies encourages adaptation and learning.
Social Emotional Learning: More Emotional Regulation Activities for Kids
Several activities can aid in emotional regulation. Mindfulness exercises, deep breathing techniques, and body scans can help children stay present and monitor their emotions calmly. Guided visualization activities can also be beneficial, helping them to focus and alleviate stress.
Creative outlets can serve as an effective strategy for emotional expression. Art therapy activities and journaling allow for the translation of feelings into tangible creations, while physical activities such as yoga, stretching, outdoor play, and sports can help channel excess energy and reduce anxiety.
Sensory experiences such as calming sensory bottles and sensory play with different textures can also help in calming overwhelmed children.
Here are some examples of emotional regulation techniques within each of those categories.
Mindfulness Exercises and Regulation Strategies for Big Feelings
Mindfulness is simply the practice of slowing down, noticing what’s happening at the moment, and responding with intention. This sounds more complex than it is. One example is a mindful breathing exercise called box breathing, inhale for 3 seconds, hold for 3 seconds, exhale for 3 seconds, hold for 3 seconds, and then start over. You can trace the four corners of an imaginary square, or box, with your hands in the air as you do this exercise. It allows you to concentrate on something other than what’s bothering you for just long enough for the distress to fade away.
The typical emotional wave only lasts about 90 seconds to three minutes, so you just need to focus on something long enough for it to pass. The idea here is that you’re not focusing on the thing that is causing the emotional wave, because trying to solve it will just make it worse when you’re overwhelmed, let the wave pass, and then you can have a calmer body and mind to move through the problem.
Body scans are a way to focus on what’s happening in your body at this particular moment, you’re moving out of the emotion and into your body, which you have more control over. With little kids, I like to pretend we have a “scanner” and use our hand to scan your body from head to toe, I usually make beeping sounds that get faster and slower when I notice a particular part of the body that is responding to the distress, like a tummy ache, fast heartbeat, or jittery legs, etc. This is a fun way for a child to feel more in control of their experience because they’re not ignoring it, pushing it away, or shaming themselves for having big feelings. The purpose of this is not to find out why there are big feelings, just to notice that they are part of us and it’s a normal part of life. When you scan over a fast heartbeat, and move into a calmer part of the body like an elbow, you can make the beeps slow down, giving the child a sense of power to focus on other things that aren’t so distressing while the rest of their body has time to settle down. Doing your body scan while the child does theirs is a good way to show them that everyone can notice big feelings in their body, “I notice my tummy feels funny…” (that’s where your beeps are fast), then ask, “What do you notice in your scanner?”
Guided visualization activities can be anything from a calming scene like a beach or clouds, or a stream of light spiraling through our body from the bottom of our feet out to the top of our heads. You can start by offering an image for them to picture in their minds, and then when they start to get calm, ask them to tell you what they like to think about that can help them feel settled.
Calming Strategies and Exploring Emotions Through Creative Outlets
Art therapy activities are helpful ways to teach kids that they can express themselves by putting what’s on the inside on the outside. They can show how they feel with colors, shapes, and even the speed of the artwork. Sometimes it helps to scribble fast when we’re overwhelmed, then we can practice drawing in slow motion.
The content of the artwork isn’t as important as how it feels to them, so an angry kid who wants to draw things blowing up doesn’t mean that they are going to be dangerous, or a sad kid who draws skulls and death doesn’t mean they’re suicidal or homicidal. Just let them do what they feel, you can ask them to explain their artwork and try to keep a neutral tone about what they’re sharing, you can prompt them by asking, “What does this part mean?” or “What’s happening for you inside?”
You can also ask them to draw pictures of what their big feelings look like. Then, they can make special spaces for them to live in so they don’t feel so out of control. This is called a containment strategy, but it essentially gives the child a way to organize their thoughts and emotions helpfully. They can always know where anger lives or where sadness goes to feel better.
Journaling and writing exercises are good for kids who are old enough to write and can be a good way for kids to get their emotions out. Remember that feelings are not facts, and emotions are thematic and not literal.
Try not to solve their feelings as if they’re problems. Just let them exist as part of the child’s normal human experience. You can say “Wow, that is a hard feeling to feel, I’m sorry you’re going through this.” or “I am right here with you while this stuff comes up, you’re not alone.”
Coping Skills: Physical Activities to Support Self-Regulation
Yoga and stretching routines are a great way to practice “slow motion” which helps our nervous systems realize that things are safe and that we can relax a bit. Moving in slow motion is helpful when we’re activated because it triggers a body response to start calming down.
Outdoor play and sports are both great ways to move our bodies and keep our minds healthy. When we move our bodies, we can process our internal experience more fully, it activates parts of our brain that can support a more “zoomed-out” perspective on things and make big emotions a little less overwhelming.
Walking, running, dancing, and other types of movement support connection and communication between our mind and body, allowing us to build a stronger foundation to tolerate and regulate our emotions. Being outside triggers natural healing properties in our bodies gives us more energy, and sends subliminal signals of growth and thriving life through all five of our senses.
Emotion Regulation and Calming Skills Through Sensory Experiences
Calming sensory bottles are easy to have on hand and carry with you. They give a child something to look at, flip around, and distract with when they’re getting overstimulated.
Using more of our senses is an effective way to shift out of a feeling of being overwhelmed because it requires more of our brain activity, so our brain can’t just focus on the distress. It helps us get “unstuck” when we find things to smell, feel, hear, see, and taste.
A good rule of thumb is to use 3’s – identify three different sounds you hear, three different objects, shapes, or colors you see, three things you can smell, etc. This will give the brain and body just enough time to move through the distressing emotions and get back on track.
Regulation Activities Daily Routines: Using a Calm Corner or Zen Zone
Incorporating these activities into daily routines begins with creating a safe and comfortable space for your child. A consistent schedule is vital, ensuring that the activities are routine and not sporadic.
Encouraging open communication about emotions and recognizing these feelings is equally critical. We want to practice these activities all throughout the day, not just save them for distressing times. Calming and regulating techniques are much less effective if we don’t have a solid foundation for accessing them, and if we leave it up to game time, we won’t be as successful.
You can add some sensory activities into the morning routine like smelling the soap or listening to the birds.
Make sure that you’re leaving time and space in your life, and the child’s life, to acknowledge your internal experiences. Having a jam-packed schedule, rushing here to there, and hustling constantly is counterproductive to healthy development.
The Calm Down Corner – Add the Emotions Chart to Your Calm Corner Kit
You can build a comfortable “calm corner” or “zen zone” in your home that the child can design and create with you using pillows, soft lights, fidget toys, books, and other settling-down items. This is a mindful and intentional way to teach children that emotions are normal and self-care is a priority.
Keep a printed copy of our emotions chart for your child to use and encourage them to explore their feelings with this emotion regulation visual.
In the Therapy Office: Techniques Used in Play Therapy for Emotional Regulation
Play therapy provides a safe space for exploring emotions. It differs from traditional talk therapy and has been found effective for emotional regulation. In the therapy office, techniques such as sandplay, art therapy, and puppet play are commonly used. Children do most of their social and emotional learning through play. They don’t have the advanced knowledge of the world that adults do, so they often think in themes rather than in details.
Playing out their feelings through the stories of their stuffed animals, racecars, or dolls is a very healthy way for children to process and integrate their emotional experiences.
Children are often powerless to advocate for themselves at home. They may feel scared when they see their parents argue or when they notice their parents seem more stressed than usual, but they can’t necessarily voice those concerns to their parents because they don’t have the words, and it’s not their role.
Because of a child’s inherent dependence on their caregivers, kids will seldom feel comfortable sharing that they’re feeling hurt or scared by their parents’ dynamic or behaviors. Instead, the child will express these feelings through play themes that a therapist can help them work through.
When we work with children in play therapy, we invite the parents to participate in some sessions as part of the child’s treatment plan. We do this because the parent’s responses to the child are the most important and impactful part of a child’s ability to successfully regulate their emotions. If the parent’s response isn’t attuned to the child, then the child will not be able to develop the skills necessary to cope healthily.
Highly sensitive kids have big emotions, and these deeply feeling kids need extra support. It’s hard to do it alone. We always say that the parents aren’t the “problem,” but they are a major part of the solution.
Children can struggle to communicate emotions like fear or sadness to their caregivers, but play therapy and emotional regulation charts are powerful tools to help them work through their emotions. Parents and caregivers need to be patient, understanding, and supportive of their children’s emotional journey.
If you’re having a hard time as a caregiver, you deserve support, too.
Just like the child, your nervous system is responding to external and internal cues. Sometimes, we can’t handle these situations the way we know we want to because of our own trauma experiences and we need to care for ourselves first.
The Role of Your Self-Regulation Skills and Coping Strategies in Your Deeply Feeling Child’s Social and Emotional Learning
Supporting your child extends beyond routines and activities. Encourage healthy expression of emotions and create a supportive environment. Seeking professional help when needed is vital.
If it’s hard for you as the parent to tolerate your child’s big emotions, it’s a sign that you may not have had the support you needed as a child, and you deserve to heal those wounds for yourself.
When parents feel resentment towards their children’s emotions, needs, or neediness, it’s a good indicator that the parents have experienced trauma in their childhood that needs attending to. It’s easy to feel helpless when your child is highly sensitive and emotionally dysregulated.
You must be able to get the support you deserve so that you can lovingly fill the incredibly challenging role of co-regulator to your child.