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Teaching children to regulate emotions early is essential to future success, experts say 

Apr 11, 2024, 3:06 PM | Updated: 5:01 pm

HERRIMAN — It’s no secret toddlers and preschool-aged kids have big feelings. Learning to regulate these emotions can be challenging for anyone, but especially young children.

One Herriman mother is taking proactive steps to help her son before he starts kindergarten. 

Jack McBride knows firsthand—being four years old can be tough.  

“He has a lot of emotions. He is a strong-willed child,” his mother, Alyssa McBride said. “He gets frustrated when things don’t go his way.”

Alyssa McBride finds reading to her four-year-old son about how to regulate different emotions is an effective way for him to learn about his own feelings. (Josh Szymanik, KSLTV)

Alyssa McBride finds reading to her four-year-old son about different emotions is an effective way for him to learn about his own feelings. (Josh Szymanik, KSL TV)

McBride makes it a priority to help him recognize all of his feelings and gives him tools to navigate and regulate those emotions. “We have an emotion wheel that has pictures of different emotions and we can try to pinpoint what he’s feeling,” she explained. 

I really like to utilize breathing especially when he’s really feeling his emotions heavily and it’s harder for him to calm down to talk to me,” she said.  

McBride likes to pretend her fingers are birthday candles. “He usually wants to do four, because that’s how old he is… and he will just blow out each candle and that gets him breathing and regulating his nervous system too, so then we can talk about [his frustrations] more,” she said. 

She also practices mindfulness and meditations with him, “which we’ve had to build up over time because when they’re little they have a short attention span. But he’s actually gotten good at it and it’s been really helpful for him to be able to show his emotions and to talk about them with me.” 

4 Survival Tips For Young Families Facing Emotional Stress, Strain

McBride started practicing these techniques to regulate emotions after experiencing postpartum depression when Jack was born. Today she’s sharing them with others as a life coach.  

Samantha Mafua, Early Childhood Coaching and Consultation Program Director with The Children’s Center Utah, encourages parents to model these strategies by describing what they’re feeling out loud.

“So, ‘Oh man, I’m really frustrated. I can’t open this. I’m going to put it down, take a deep breath and try again,’” she described. “So you’re really just talking through what you’re doing as you’re doing it.” She said this helps the child see what strategies the parent uses to handle difficult situations. 

Samantha Mafua encourages parents to model various strategies that help regulate emotions, like breathing and meditating, so their children learn early on how to regulate their feelings. Photo Credit: Josh Szymanik, KSLT V

Samantha Mafua with The Children’s Center Utah encourages parents to model various strategies for coping with different emotions, like breathing and meditating, so their children learn early on how to regulate their feelings. (Josh Szymanik, KSL TV)

“It’s really hard for kids, and toddlers especially, to learn unless we’re talking out loud and telling them what we’re doing as adults,” she added. 

Mafua said meltdowns and tantrums happen when a child doesn’t know how to express themselves. “Because we haven’t taught them the words to say, ‘I’m frustrated,’ or ‘I’m mad. I need some space.’” 

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Teaching children to regulate emotions early is essential to future success, experts say