The earlier you start, the better.
Of all the skills children can learn from their parents, emotional regulation – the ability to manage and control their own emotions – may be the most important of all. If you’re like most entrepreneurs and business leaders, you want your kids to grow up as driven and successful as you are.
Research shows that children with better emotional regulation do better in school, which may set them up for further success as they grow up. And, experts say, the earlier you start teaching them this life skill, the better. You can even start when your child is a baby.
Beyond the potential for increased academic and perhaps career success, knowing how to manage their emotions is a skill that will help your children throughout their lives, especially when faced with difficult or traumatic situations.
Teaching them emotional regulation early on is one of the greatest gifts you can give them for their future success and happiness.
But how exactly do you teach emotional regulation, especially if you’re dealing with a very small child, an age when most are prone to frequent tantrums?
Experts interviewed for a recent article at the American Psychological Association (APA) website have some great advice that’s well worth reading. Here are what I think are the most important points.
1. Name that emotion
As highly verbal adults, we can forget how frustrating it is for small children not to be able to clearly express themselves, especially if they don’t have the right words to describe what they’re feeling. So help your kids out by teaching them those words.
Encourage them to name their emotions at times when they can be receptive to learning about them (don’t try it when they’re in the middle of a tantrum).
The Center for Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation has some excellent suggestions for how to do this, such as asking them periodically throughout the day what emotions they are feeling, making happy, sad, angry faces and asking the child to name the emotion you’re expressing, or when you read them stories, asking them what emotions the characters may be feeling.
2. Suggest alternative behaviors
Again, don’t do this when your child is in the middle of an emotional tornado. But later on, when discussing the event, explore some ideas for what they could have done differently.
For example, if they had a meltdown at school because another child took their toy, asking the teacher for help or finding another toy to play with might be options to consider next time.
3. Praise four times for every time you punish
For your child to learn emotional regulation, you have to be consistent about delivering consequences.
For example, if the consequence for throwing their dinner across the room is the loss of iPad privileges, then you have to take that iPad away every time they do it.
At the same time, though, experts agree that positive reinforcement is much better than punishment when it comes to teaching your child a new behavior pattern.
The solution? Notice when your child does practice emotional regulation and praise them for their self-control. If your child tends to act up around bedtime, on the nights when they go to bed without a fuss, tell them that you’re impressed with their grownup behavior.
“The research shows that you should have four or five positive interactions for each negative reprimand,” John Lochman, PhD, a University of Alabama psychologist who specializes in aggressive child behavior told the APA.
4. Model emotional regulation yourself
If your child often observes you losing control over your own emotions, it will be that much harder for them to learn emotional regulation themselves.
So demonstrate good emotional regulation by managing your own emotions, if not all the time then at least whenever you’re in your child’s sight or hearing.
Of course, it can be nearly impossible to remain calm is when your child is acting completely out of control. Resist the temptation to meet that meltdown head-on with escalating anger or ever-harsher punishment.
Instead, do whatever works for you to maintain your own calm – taking deep breaths, counting, reciting a calming phrase to yourself or even stepping out of the room for a minute if necessary.
It might feel like you’re admitting defeat, but by avoiding having your own meltdown, you’re teaching your child by example what to do and what not to do. In the long run, that will benefit you both.
This article was originally published in the original United States edition of Inc. or on inc.com and is the copyright property of Mansueto Ventures LLC, which reserves all rights. Copyright © Mansueto Ventures LLC.
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