What is Emotional Regulation?

By June 4, 2024 June 13th, 2024 Occupational Therapy
Children learning emotional rgulation in Occupational Therapy session in Bondi Junction and Mascot

Emotional regulation is the ability to manage and respond to our feelings in a healthy way. For young children, this means learning how to understand, express, and control their emotions. It’s an important skill that helps them navigate social interactions, handle stress, and develop resilience. Let’s explore what emotional regulation is in young children, why it’s important, and how we can help them develop this essential skill.

What is Emotional Regulation?

Emotional regulation involves recognizing and managing our emotions. For young children, this means learning to identify their feelings, understand what causes them, and find appropriate ways to express and cope with them. It’s a process that starts early in life and continues to develop as children grow.

Why is Emotional Regulation Important?

Emotional regulation is crucial for many reasons:

  1. Healthy Relationships: Children who can regulate their emotions are better able to form and maintain healthy relationships with peers and adults. They can express their feelings in ways that are constructive and understand others’ emotions, which helps them build empathy and social skills.
  2. Academic Success: Emotional regulation can affect a child’s ability to focus, learn, and perform in school. Children who manage their emotions well are more likely to stay calm, pay attention, and persist in the face of challenges.
  3. Mental Health: Learning to regulate emotions helps prevent problems like anxiety, depression, and behavioral issues. It equips children with coping skills that promote overall mental well-being.
  4. Resilience: Emotional regulation helps children bounce back from setbacks and adapt to change. It builds resilience, which is the ability to recover from difficulties and continue moving forward.

How Do Young Children Develop Emotional Regulation?

Emotional regulation is a skill that develops over time and involves several stages:

  1. Infancy: Babies rely on caregivers to help them manage their emotions. When a baby cries, caregivers soothe them by holding, rocking, or feeding them. This external regulation helps babies feel safe and understood.
  2. Toddlerhood: Toddlers begin to recognize their emotions but often express them in intense and unfiltered ways. Tantrums, for example, are common as toddlers struggle with frustration and the desire for independence. They start to learn basic self-soothing techniques like hugging a favorite toy or seeking comfort from a caregiver.
  3. Preschool Age: Preschoolers develop more advanced emotional regulation skills. They start to use words to express their feelings and learn simple strategies to calm down, like taking deep breaths or counting to ten. They also begin to understand that their actions can affect others’ feelings.
  4. Early School Age: As children enter school, they continue to refine their emotional regulation skills. They learn to navigate more complex social situations, manage their emotions in a group setting, and develop problem-solving skills to handle conflicts.

Helping Children Develop Emotional Regulation

Parents, caregivers, and teachers play a vital role in helping children develop emotional regulation. Here are some strategies to support this development:

  1. Modeling: Children learn by watching adults. Demonstrate healthy ways to manage emotions. For example, if you feel frustrated, say, “I’m feeling frustrated, so I’m going to take a deep breath and calm down.” This shows children how to handle their own emotions.
  2. Naming Emotions: Help children identify their feelings by naming them. Say things like, “It looks like you’re feeling sad” or “I see that you’re angry.” Naming emotions helps children recognize and understand their feelings.
  3. Creating a Safe Environment: Provide a safe and supportive environment where children feel comfortable expressing their emotions. Let them know it’s okay to feel upset, angry, or scared, and that you’re there to help them.
  4. Teaching Coping Strategies: Teach children simple techniques to manage their emotions. Deep breathing, counting to ten, and using a calm-down corner with soothing items like stuffed animals or books can be very effective.
  5. Encouraging Problem-Solving: Help children think of solutions to their problems. If they’re upset because they can’t find a toy, guide them through steps to look for it or suggest a different activity. This encourages them to find constructive ways to deal with their emotions.
  6. Positive Reinforcement: Praise and reward children when they manage their emotions well. Positive reinforcement helps them understand the value of emotional regulation and motivates them to keep practicing.
  7. Consistency and Routine: Maintain consistent routines and rules. Predictable environments help children feel secure and understand what to expect, which can reduce emotional outbursts.

Challenges and Patience

It’s important to remember that developing emotional regulation is a gradual process and young children will have ups and downs. Patience and understanding are key. Expect setbacks and use them as teaching moments. Celebrate small victories and continue to support your child as they grow and learn.


Emotional regulation is a crucial skill that helps young children manage their feelings, interact positively with others, and cope with challenges. By understanding what emotional regulation is and how it develops, parents and caregivers can provide the support and guidance children need to build this important skill. With patience, consistency, and positive reinforcement, children can learn to navigate their emotions and develop into resilient, well-adjusted individuals.

Meet George

George is a 6 year old boy. He had emotional regulation issues. He got upset quickly if things didn’t go his way. George took a long time to calm down and this was impacting his whole family. It was making things harder at preschool. Our Occupational Therapists developed a sensory diet to use movement breaks to keep him clam. Our Speech Pathologists used the Westmead Feelings Program to help him understand different emotions and how he can calm himself down. Gradually, the parents noticed that there were less meltdowns and they were shorter. The preschool reported the same thing across the school day. George still gets upset at times but he has learned to clam down faster.

We’re here to support you

At OneOnOne Children’s Therapy, we believe that every child deserves the opportunity to grow and thrive.

Our clinics are not just a space for therapy – it’s a place where children can discover their strengths, overcome challenges, and reach their full potential.

By combining innovative therapy techniques with a stimulating and supportive environment, we’re proud to offer a holistic approach to paediatric therapy and early intervention that addresses the unique needs of each child we support. We use the Westmead Feeling Program as well as Occupational Therapy strategies to teach children emotional regulation strategies. While the Westmead Feelings Program was designed for children with autism, it is extremely helpful for all children with emotional regulation issues.

Reach out for support

If you’re concerned about your child’s emotional regulation or want to learn more about how our Occupational Therapists and Speech Pathologists use the Westmead Feelings Program to teach emotional regulation, OneOnOne Children’s Therapy is here to help. We have clinics in Bondi Junction and Mascot – in Sydney’s Eastern suburbs.

Call our Bondi Junction and Mascot clinics on (02) 80657837 or email. You can book a free 30 minute phone call with us to discuss how we can support your child’s unique journey