Regulation is the ability to recognise and respond to feelings in an appropriate way, children learn the foundations of these skills very early in their development. Initially children rely solely on co-regulation, this is learning to feel calm by engaging with an adult who "lends" their regulation to the child. For example an adult rocking an infant to calm them or a parent hugging a toddler who feels angry and out of control. Co-regulation continues throughout our life in different forms such as venting to a colleague or having a coffee with a friend.
As well as learning to feel calm, children also need to learn about their own emotions and those around them. The more knowledge they have the greater chance they have to calm themselves through big feelings and moments where they are not in control.
Knowledge includes being able to label emotions; this starts with simple emotions such as happy, sad, angry, surprised and tired. Around age 4 children will understand that it is possible to be feeling two emotions at once; happy and excited, sad and lonely. Try asking your children how they are feeling and express your feelings to your child so they learn how to label their emotions.
As children develop they will be able to recognise these emotions in others, this is a key foundation step for social skills. For example a child may read another's verbal and non verbal cues of sadness and respond accordingly.
Following this, children are able to understand that others have different perspectives and may feel differently than them in the same situation. For example one child may enjoy a fast ride that may be scary for their friend.
Once a child has these foundation emotional skills they are more likely to have success in social interactions. As well as this they are less likely to engage in behaviour outbursts and be better regulated which allows them to learn.
The best news is that sharing joyful play with your child is the most successful way of building regulation pathways in the brain.
Playing with your child and delighting in each other is not just for fun but gives them the skills to manage their feelings.