When our children are hungry, we offer food.
When they are tired, we offer sleep.
When they want attention, we offer connection.
As a parent, these needs often make sense to us and we have some ideas of how to meet them. But here is something else to think about.
A Child's Need For Emotional Regulation
When children experience big, unpleasant feelings and meltdowns, there is a need there too. They have a need to release tension and regulate their bodies. We can help meet that need by being emotionally responsive adults for our children.
Children who learn that vulnerability is a superpower - to feel big feelings and let them out of their body in the presence of their adult - retain a very important truth: all emotions are safe. Not just to feel but to express.
This is huge, because emotional overwhelm is alarming to children, mostly because emotions are new to them. So when parents and educators make emotions safe, children feel secure to explore and participate in relationships and the world around them.
They don’t have to carry the burden of being blocked or denied emotional experiences. They can live more fully. As researcher and author Brené Brown shares, “Our kids come into this world wired for struggle and imperfection. Our job is to let them know they are worthy of love, and to be truly loved, they must feel validated and seen.”
Emotional Regulation As A Skill
Not only is emotional regulation a need, but it is also a skill. Our children have highly immature brains. While they are little Einsteins at detecting perceived threats and feeling feelings, they are a novice at knowing what to do with them. It takes ritual and consistency.
Each time a child’s emotions are met with connection, they grow a pathway in their brain for emotional regulation. They essentially cultivate a toolbelt for when they feel mad, sad, or frustrated.
Additionally, each time we invite our children to borrow our nervous system and model noticing, naming, and managing our emotions, our children mimic and embody that too. We are emotional beings neurobiologically wired to connect. And so when children are offered these experiences, they not only develop mentally and physically but emotionally as well.
Calming Corner Spaces Build Emotional Regulation Skills For Kids
Having a Calming Space in your home or classroom meets a child’s fundamental needs and teaches the skills of being a human who feels. The concepts around a Calming Space are connection and co-regulation.
We don’t order, command, and demand that our children go to their Calming Space to figure out their emotions in isolation. Rather, this is a place where parents, caregivers, or educators go with children to help them notice, name, and process feeling sensations.
The Time-In ToolKit posters make it easy and fun for children to identify their feelings. With your help, children begin to connect sensations to words, expanding their emotional vocabulary. For example, “When my jaw is clenched and my fists are tight, I am feeling angry.”
These associations help children then manage physically. “When I feel angry, I can __.” The ToolKit also offers a Calming Strategies poster to help children explore which calming activities feel most nourishing to them.
Practicing this in fun, playful ways during regulated moments, in a daily ritual such as pre-bedtime or during circle time in class, can help children access calming strategies during dysregulation. And as stated above, when we model using the Calming Space ourselves, children are more likely to mirror our patterns and adopt them as their own.
Calming Corner Spaces Create Life-Long Skills
Our feelings are forces. And feelings that don’t have permission to leave our body fly out as dysregulated behaviors. When we educate from fear and compliance, asking our children to suppress or deny themselves, they grow up to be adults who are developmentally in no better place to manage their emotions than they were as a child.
We want our children to connect and talk with us and we want to prepare them for life in different ways. Using a Calming Space is like a pre-regulation tool, preparing kids for different feelings. This builds emotional regulation antibodies, so to speak. It takes all of the aloneness and scariness and replaces it with safety and love. And when children feel safe, they can learn.