Emotional control is the ability to adjust emotions by using rational thinking to understand when it is unhelpful and unrealistic. Emotional control helps your child curb her feelings.
A child with poor emotional control might have temper tantrums or emotional outbursts. They often overreact, are likely to have trouble dealing with real or perceived criticism, and deal emotionally with unexpected problems. Girls tend to internalize unpleasant emotions more often, and can be depressed and frustrated. Withdrawal is also a common reaction. But, as boys tend to do more often, she may also externalize her feelings by reacting outwardly with anger, aggression, sarcasm, or disdain. Her lack of emotional control challenges relationships and can become unbearable to herself and others at times.
Mindfulness training has been practiced since ancient times, for more than 3,000 years. Folks realized that it improved general emotional wellbeing, increased compassion for oneself and others, and made people more thoughtful and calm—old and young alike. It has been relatively recently that it spilled over to modern day use—nowadays found in homes, schools, workplaces, sports centers, and many more. By acting mindfully, people are not only aware of their own feelings but become able to distance from it, avoiding feeling overpowered and acting out.
What do I do to help my child improve her/his emotional control skill?
Select one or two issues that your teen exhibit relating to emotional control. Maybe it is instability of moods, easily getting upset, angry, depressed, or frustrated. His or her inability to regulate their emotions probably upset or worry those around them, and affect their interpersonal relationships with family, friends, teachers, coaches, etc. It is also likely to negatively impact his/her overall performance and well-being, and sometimes maybe even cause more direct harm to him- or herself and others. Define the issues that need improvement as specific as possible, noting the frequency, severity, and consequences. Also, consider whether there is a common antecedent or trigger, what the typical situation is and who is involved. Formulate a goal for each issue. Break it up into smaller goals if possible.
Before you start with the intervention, sit down with your child and explain the problem, process, and importance of achieving the goals that you have set. Ask your child for input in setting goals and plans for improvement. Make him or her feel empowered in the process. The most effective process of improving emotional control or regulation is aimed at making your child aware of his/her emotions and their impact. It is also important that she understands that distressing emotions are a common human condition, that they come and go naturally, and do not define us as persons.
The following are three mindfulness exercises designed to make your child more aware and mindful of his/her inner thoughts and feelings. It also teaches him/her to focus on the present moment, and that his/her emotions do not have to overwhelm her life.
(1) Mindful walks – Schedule time a few times a week to stroll through your neighborhood and notice things you haven’t seen before. Designate one minute of the walk to be completely silent and simply pay attention to all the colors you see – green, blue, white, etc., and sounds you can hear – birds, lawnmowers, dogs, etc.
(2) Personal weather report – Sit still with the attention of a frog. It helps you find out what you’re thinking, feeling, and doing. Just like a frog, sit very still and observe everything around you and inside you. It doesn’t waste energy on things it doesn’t have to do. Notice your breathing as you breathe in and out. Feel your chest and belly rising. Be still. Relaxed and calm. Take your time to focus your attention. Start to notice small things. Some movements are okay, just notice it. Now, think about your feelings at the moment like a weather report. Sunny, stormy, rainy, calm, tornado…? Just think about and observe your feelings. Like the weather, you can’t change your feelings. But, you can change the way that you respond to it. You are not your feelings and emotions. Just like the weather, they come and go. As they happen, just accept them.
(3) Gratitude practice: Take a moment daily before a shared meal for everyone to take turns and express their gratitude for one thing. It really helps positive awareness and improves compassion for others. The ability to feel compassion is linked to balancing moods and regulate emotions.
Next, we look at the skill of sustained attention.