Archive of ‘Emotional Regulation’ category

Regulating Parents’ Emotions So They Can Effectively Regulate Their Child’s Emotions

Something that I believe every parent can benefit from is finding effective ways to regulate their own emotions so that they can help their children regulate themselves.  Parenting is HARD.  It’s chaotic, amazing, exhausting, rewarding, expensive, and wonderful all at the same time.  When we’re stressed out with whatever the day throws at us, it’s easy to take it out on those closest to us.  When we are already crunched for time (because as a parent there’s never enough time in the day), we’re trying to get our child’s lunch ready, the house is a disaster, the baby just woke up, and our child is having big emotions (AKA a tantrum, refusing to help, crying because they want attention, etc. etc.) we tend to yell or take out our frustration on the child.  It’s a very common response to have when faced with this kind of scenario.  Be gentle with yourself mom/dad!  It happens.  But there are ways that we can decrease the frequency of us losing our tempers.  

My hope is that this article can teach parents helpful ways to manage their BIG emotions, so they can be there for their little ones who are having BIG emotions.  An escalated parent CANNOT deescalate an escalated child. Read that again! An escalated parent CANNOT deescalate an escalated child.

1. Take a few deep breaths. 

How does your body feel when you’re beginning to get overwhelmed, stressed, angry, etc.?  Do your shoulders hunch up, your jaw clench, or your forehead furrow?  Notice these signs and take mental note.  THIS is the first step in recognizing when you need to take some deep breaths.  Taking deep breaths will help calm your nervous system and prevent you from acting in a way that you wouldn’t normally.  Stop and notice what your body is telling you. 

2. Remember to think before you act.

Take a few seconds to gather yourself before you respond in a way that you may regret later.  Patience is key when parenting – not only with your children, but also with yourself.  If you are noticing signs of yourself becoming unregulated, change the scenery for you and/or your child/teen.  Go outside, move to another room, allow them screen time (it’s OK to allow it when you yourself need some time to deescalate), suggest they read a book or draw/color.  This change in scenery helps take you and your child/teen out of the upsetting situation which will help them calm down quicker.

3. Tell yourself & kiddo – “Everyone makes mistakes”.

This was one of the most powerful things ever said to me as a child!  Perfection is not possible. Give yourself & kiddo grace, patience, understanding.  Your child/teen is still learning. Even if they know the limits that have been set, they are still learning how to cope with big feelings and sometimes this can cause children/teens to make inappropriate choices. 

Work together with them so you can both understand why they acted in a way that they knew they shouldn’t have.  Use “I wonder” statements.  For example, you can say “I wonder what you need right now”, “I wonder what can be done differently next time”, “I wonder what I can do for you”.  Using “I wonder” statements helps the child/teen stay in their feelings, which is where they naturally are, and continue to process how they are feeling.

Do your best NOT to yell – be there for your child/teen when they are having a hard time.  You can be firm without yelling.  If they are crying, yelling, being aggressive, now is NOT the time to discipline. Wait until they have calmed down for you talk about how to move forward positively.  If they like to be hugged when they are having big feelings, hug them (but keep yourself safe).  If they don’t like to be hugged, do NOT force it.  If they need space, allow them space. 

A few things about limitations/consequences:

  1. Stick to your limitations if they are feasible.  Creating and maintaining limits and consequences communicate to the child/teen that there is safety.  No limits/consequences communicate that they can do whatever they want, which equals little safety.  A child/teen needs to know that there are rules within means
  2. Maybe your limitations/consequences need to be reevaluated.  Perhaps a limit or consequence worked with one child, but doesn’t with the other.  Remember that every person is different, even siblings!  What may have worked for you when you were a child/teen does not mean it will work for your child/teen. 

4. Find another caregiver who is regulated in the home that can take over until you are regulated again.

If you are having a difficult time regulating yourself and there is another caregiver that can take over for you, switch out.  It’s OK to walk away from a situation when you need extra time to take care of yourself.  Return to your child/teen when you feel ready and talk about what happened with them.  Let them know that you love them and that you needed to take a break.  Switching out is much better than losing our tempers and yelling.  The important thing here is to return to your child afterwards to assure them that you love them, explain why you walked away, and acknowledge their feelings as well.

5. If you know your child is going to have a difficult time doing X. Y, or Z, plan to have extra time during these moments so you don’t feel rushed.

Time is a HUGE stressor as a parent.  You’re juggling so many things constantly.  If you can, try to find ways to squeeze in a few extra minutes into situations where you know you will have a battle with your child/teen.  If we don’t feel as much stress about time during these situations, then our ability to maintain a regulated state increases.  We no longer have the thoughts in the back of our minds of, “we’re going to be late again”, “the traffic is going to be so bad”, “I’m going to get dirty looks”, etc.

6. Prioritize your own self-care.  

SELF-CARE, SELF-CARE, SELF-CARE! Did I mention self-care? Self-care is crucial to our well-being as a person and as a parent.  If we don’t take time for ourselves and we’re always running on “E”, we tend to get resentful with others in our life.  I strongly encourage you to find ways of caring for yourself each and every day.  Whatever that may look like! Maybe for you it’s exercising 30 minutes a day, or going for a walk outside, or watching your favorite show, or finding peace and quiet.  Do whatever you need to do each day.  When we take care of ourselves, we have more bandwidth to be there for others. 

Picture Books as Therapy

Understanding complex emotions and life events is difficult for anyone, but especially for children. When they don’t have the proper tools to express their inner turmoil and process their surroundings, this can often lead to frustrating interactions with parents and caregivers. One tool to give your child is seeing big emotions and hard situations played out in a book.

Books are a great way to help children understand their feelings, learn about differences, and begin to understand the world around them. This can start as early as toddlerhood with picture books! An extra bonus to picture books is the visual representation of emotions, interactions, and experiences. These can be jumping off points for all kinds of conversations with your little ones. Not only that, but it removes your little one from having to be the one with the heavy feelings or thoughts. Instead, by focusing on the stories of the character, you can discuss these feelings and thoughts without your child feeling put on the spot.

With that in mind, here are eight suggestions for picture books that can help engage your little one in some of life’s biggest questions:

Big Bear Was Not the Same

By Joanna Rowland

(Beaming Books, 2021)

Joanna Rowland is a fantastic author whose books tackle real-life issues. Big Bear was Not the Same discusses posttraumatic stress disorder and the effects that trauma can have on individuals who experience it and those close to them. In addition to Big Bear was Not the Same, her other books focus on tough topics such as grief, friendship when times are tough, and hope.

Ruby Finds a Worry

By Tom Percival

(2018, Bloomsbury)

Tom Percival is another picture book author that takes big feelings and makes them relatable to children. In Ruby Finds a Worry, Ruby experiences anxiety and thinks she is the only child with this issue. Eventually she realizes everyone gets Worries and the best way to deal with them is not to ignore them, but talk about them. Not only will the story interest your little readers, but the art depictions of the Worry are fun and engaging. Tom has many other books focusing on social emotional learning in his Big Bright Feelings series, including Perfectly Norman, Ravi’s Roar, and Meesha Makes Friends.

My Shadow is Pink

By Scott Stuart

(Larrikin House, 2021)

This was one of my favorite picture books of 2021 (and apparently one of my daughter’s also, since she made it read it 3 times on the drive home from the bookstore alone)! A young boy who loves pink and dresses and “things that aren’t for boys” struggles to be himself when he doesn’t fit in with his family and friends. Stuart’s beautiful illustrations and lyrical prose open the door for inclusivity, diversity, self love, and acceptance. This book gives children the permission to “be themselves, even when it’s uncomfortable.”

The Princess and the Fog

By Anthony Lloyd Jones

(Hachette, 2015)

The princess has everything she ever needs to make her happy until one day a fog settles over her and she can’t seem to feel happy anymore. The Princess and the Fog provides a fun, relatable look at childhood depression. An included guide in the back matter helps parents dig deeper on the topic. With realistic explanations of depression symptoms, Jones does a beautiful job of helping open up a conversation and foster understanding.

Don’t Hug Doug

By Carrie Finison

(Penguin Random House, 2021)

Bodily autonomy and consent are tricky topics to discuss with kids, but important nonetheless. Don’t Hug Doug approaches bodily autonomy in a way kids can relate to– with the concept of hugs. Doug doesn’t like hugs, but his friends and family often insist on hugging him! This book encourages children to ask before touching someone and to voice their own desires about how they are touched. Instead of a hug, why not a high five?

It Will Be Okay

By Lisa Katzenberger

(Sourcebooks Explore, 2021)

Katzenberger creates a kid friendly approach to anxiety through her story about Giraffe and Zebra. When going about his usual routine Giraffe experiences something that makes him so worried and anxious he just wants to hide. Zebra’s empathy and friendship help him overcome his anxiety and get back to enjoying his day. Katzenberger includes excellent educational back matter that can help parents and teachers engage deeper with the topic of anxiety. 

The Struggle Bus

By Julie Koon

(Kind World Publishing, 2022)

Each of us have experienced days where we felt like we were on the “struggle bus”. Nothing is going our way, we can’t seem to make things work out, and we have no idea how we’re going to get things done. In her book, Koon takes this to the next level by presenting children with images of an actual school bus as “the struggle bus”. Her lovely rhyme walks children through times of frustration, hardship, and ultimately perseverance. 

The Breaking News

By Sarah Lynne Reul

(Roaring Brook Press, 2018)

This year especially has seen lots of heartbreaking and stressful things in the news. From war, to pandemic, to school shootings, children may have been exposed to or have seen their caregivers’ reactions to media coverage of difficult situations. Sarah Lynne Reul tackles this in “The Breaking News” and helps show children and adults alike that while they may not be able to do BIG things to combat these issues, even small things can make a big difference. 

Each of these books are excellent ways to not only dig deeper into big topics with your children, but to encourage their love of reading and their imagination. 

For more resources on handling tough topics with kids, or to look into therapeutic interventions for yourself, your child, or family email [email protected].

How to Help Your Child When They Flip Their Lid

Many of us have witnessed children getting taken over by intense emotions resulting in losing their temper, reacting without thinking, or blowing up. In those moments it can be really difficult to stay grounded and regulated, while also trying to calm your child down. Dr. Dan Siegel, author of Whole Brain Child, terms these instant reactions your child experiences as “flipping their lid.” Once we understand how the brain affects the way we regulate emotions, then not only can we can help our children stay calm but we can also keep our own lid on. 

What is Flipping a Lid?

Flipping a lid has everything to do with the brain and how messages are sent to different sections of the brain about what our bodies are experiencing. When children are able to problem solve, act kindly, and be empathic, those are immediate signs that their prefrontal cortex or “rational brain” is intact.  Said differently, their lid is on. When the prefrontal cortex is engaged, children feel calm, safe, and relaxed. When children are experiencing big feelings (e.g. very angry or anxious, overreact, yell) that serves as a warning sign that they are not thinking with their rational brain but instead using their “emotional or animal brain.” This is when the amygdala is activated, fight, flight, or flight response is triggered, and children flip their lids. The emotional brain keeps children safe and guards them against things that pose as a threat. During this state, their rational brain has been disconnected from their emotional brain- logic no longer influences emotions. 

How to help your child keep their lid on 


Hugs can be a great way to provide relief for your child who has flipped their lid. Instead of flipping your own lid and matching your child’s high emotional state, hugs activate mirror neurons in your child’s brain. This can can help your child sense your emotionally regulated state and influence their reactions. When your child’s brain recognizes the love and affection in your hug, its chemistry is altered and can return to a state of calm and relaxation. Their lid begins to close.  

Validate and Ask Curiosity Questions

When you are noticing your child has flipped their lid, it can help to understand their point of view. Show your child that they have your undivided attention and provide them a space where they feel seen and heard. Ask them curiosity questions to better understand their experience, such as “Are you feeling frustrated that you have to go to bed?” or “Do you want some space from me or would you like a hug?”  By creating a sense of safety and being empathic, they can slowly tame their emotions and put their lid back on. 


There will be times when flipping your lid is unavoidable. It is after these moments that sincere apologies can repair the relationship and reconnect you with your child. Let your child know that you are sorry for flipping your own lid, which may have caused hurt feelings. It is also important to ask your child how you can fix this mistake. Mending the rupture with apologies can model valuable skills to your child, such as cooling off, emotional regulation, problem solving, and reconnection. 

You can find Dr. Dan Siegel’s scientific explanation of “Flipping Your Lid” here:

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