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4 Activities to Help Develop Emotional Regulation Skills 

Mar 23rd, 2023 | by Susana Newcombe

Susana Newcombe

March 23rd, 2023

What Is Emotional Regulation?

Emotional regulation is the ability to manage your emotions and impulses. It involves learning skills to increase positive thinking and decrease negative thinking when faced with challenging situations. This may include rethinking a difficult problem to reduce anger and anxiety.

The area of your brain responsible for emotions is the Limbic system. The Limbic system has four parts that control emotions and the body’s response to the emotions.

  • Hippocampus: is responsible for our learning and memory
  • Amygdala: responds to emotions, including anger, fear, and sadness, to protect yourself.
  • Hypothalamus: controls your body temperature, hunger, thirst and circadian cycles.
  • Thalamus: detects and responds to our senses.

The area of the brain responsible for emotional regulation is the pre-frontal cortex. This part of the brain controls regulatory behaviours like impulse control, reactivity, and flexibility. It develops primarily during adolescence but only fully matures once a person is mid-twenties.

What Does All This Mean?

When a child is distressed, angry, or overly excited, they may not be able to regulate this emotion. Their emotions have activated behaviours that their pre-frontal cortex cannot control. A child cannot verbalise what is upsetting them or making them angry until their bodily response has calmed down.

Dr. Daniel Siegel Presenting a Hand Model of the Brain

YouTube video by FtMyersFamPsych

What Can You Do?

  • Remain calm.
  • Be empathetic… “I can see you are really sad right now.”
  • Do not ask questions.
  • Hug your child till they calm down and slowly breathe in and out, so they mirror your breathing and relax.
  • Stay with your child.

Mindfulness Activities to Help Develop Emotional Regulation Skills 

1. Breathing Activity

YouTube video by @upbrainery

2. Rainbow Breathing

YouTube video by The Mindfulness Teacher

3. Candle and Flower Breathing – Mindful and Calming Breathing Technique

YouTube video by Pure Star Kids

4. Guided Square Breathing for Children

YouTube video by Learn and Play Right Brain Education

Recommended Reading: 

  • Siegel, D. J., & Payne Bryson, T. (2011). The whole-brain child: 12 revolutionary strategies to nurture your child’s developing mind. Bantam Books.

Find Additional Resources in the NAPA Blog:

About the Author

Susana is a Registered Counsellor who brings to NAPA 25 years of experience working in educational and school settings. She specialises in anxiety disorders, ADHD, mood disorders, stress management, grief and loss, self-esteem, peer relationships, school issues, trauma, and bullying. She is passionate about working with children with disabilities, working alongside their families and carers to ensure everyone is supported to reach their potential.

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