Tips for parents to help regulate children’s emotions during the holidays
By Natalie Oleson • JFCS Psychotherapist
The holiday season can be a stressful time for families. Parents are extra busy with holiday parties, shopping and preparing. Kids can struggle with change in routine, as well as the increased sugar intake! All of these things can make even the most well-meaning parents lose patience with their children. Here are some tips for helping your child regulate their emotions all year round.
Name and validate the emotion. For every tantrum and meltdown, there is a feeling. It may seem ridiculous to you that being handed a green cup instead of a blue one can incite rage, disappointment, and/or hurt feelings, but for a child, it can. Saying something like, “I know that you got really mad/sad that I gave you the wrong cup. Let’s try using words to ask for a different one.” Arguing with the child about the reasoning behind the feeling tends to make them more upset (as it can with adults)! Validating the feeling can help them to calm down, as well as to teach them why they are so upset.
Use joining language. Many kids (especially those under age 5) cannot regulate their emotions on their own. This is partially due to brain development. Babies are born with the ability to feel emotions. They are not born with the ability to understand which emotion is which. This understanding is key to being able to self-soothe. In the example in the previous paragraph, saying “let’s try using words” instead of just “use your words” shows your child that you are doing this together. It may seem like a small shift, but it can make a difference.
Try to manage expectations and plan ahead. Many parents feel like their children are intentionally being difficult. In reality, this is rarely the case. Kids will struggle with emotional regulation overall, but there are certain times during the day that will be the hardest. Do you notice that kids tend to melt down during transitions, like getting off to school or going to bed? This is normal. It can help to note other patterns of times that are harder for your child, like if they’re hungry, or in between dinner and bedtime. Adding more time and expecting your child to need help during these times, rather than expecting your child to do better, will set you both up for success.
Using these tips won’t eliminate tantrums altogether, but they can shorten them. These are skills that children will use on their own someday. Practicing with you now will help them develop those skills.
Natalie Oleson, MSW, LICSW
I am a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker. I received a Master’s of Social Work degree from University of Saint Thomas. My specialties include working with people ages 3-17, especially those struggling with trauma, anxiety, depression, self-harm, and suicidality. I also help parents learn strategies to support their child at home. I have experience working with kids and families at home, in the hospital, in an outpatient clinic, and in a day treatment program. I am very passionate about working with children, since I believe early intervention gives a person the best chance for success. I use evidence-based practices such as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), mindfulness, teaching coping skills, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and play therapy.