Emotional Regulation

Take care of yourself to take care of your children

If you’re a parent you know how difficult it is to raise children, mine is no different. People have said to me, “you are a therapist can’t you read their minds”. I laugh, as I wish that I could read their minds because honestly at times the difficulty is so raw and real I just want to sit down and raise a white flag; I give up you win.

There are days that the whining, tantrums, and crying are so much that I just give in. I have so much on my plate that I don’t have the patience to sit down and really understand what is happening with my child. Those are the days that I feel regret and question my parenting skills, but they are also the days that I am thankful because I will get a second chance. There will be more days to come and more days to take a better route.

I’ve realized that on the days that I don’t have a high level of tolerance with my kids that I have a lot going on with myself personally and I am not managing my feelings/emotions. On the days that I am a better parent, I am emotionally and physically in check. I have gotten a good night’s sleep, maybe fit in a workout and I am emotionally regulated.

Emotional Regulation

“Emotional Regulation” is a term used to describe a person’s ability to effectively manage and respond to an emotional experience (Lloyd-Richardson & Rolston). We all experience emotions they are a part of our daily lives. When our kids smile at us or say something loving it creates a feeling. In the same way, when someone cuts us off on our way to work, we have a feeling. In the two scenarios, we can understand that the feelings that would occur are different.

We all use emotional regulation, sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously, to help us get through our days. We use many different strategies to help us gain control over our emotions and regain stability to adapt to our environments. For instance, if you are cooking and your child manages to get onto the counter to see what you are mixing and knocks the bowl over it creates emotions within us. How you handle that given situation? This will allow you to gauge how you currently regulate your emotions.

Below are two lists, one of the healthy strategies and the other of unhealthy strategies. You can use these lists to see what you’re doing right, and what you may need to work on. Keeping track of your emotions on a daily basis takes a lot of effort. Take it day by day and do not beat yourself up on the days that you get caught up, remind yourself that there is always tomorrow.

Examples of Emotional Regulation Strategies (Lloyd-Richardson & Rolston)

Healthy Strategies

  • Exercising
  • Talking with friends  
  • Writing in a journal
  • Meditation
  • Therapy
  • Taking care of yourself when sick
  • Getting adequate sleep
  • Paying attention to negative thoughts that occur before or after strong emotions
  • Noticing when you need a break – and taking it!

Unhealthy Strategies

  • Abusing alcohol or other substances
  • Self-injury
  • Avoiding or withdrawing from difficult situations
  • Physical or verbal aggression
  • Excessive social media use, to the exclusion of other responsibilities

With this information, it is hard to know where to start when trying to emotionally regulate yourself. You can start by taking care of your physical needs. If our physical needs are not being met, we act differently. The best example I can give you is ‘Hanger’, you know when you are so hungry that you become angry and irritable. The same is true for any other physical need; get a good night’s rest, eat healthy, and exercise.

Next, take a look at what you are doing every day. Are you participating in activities that build your sense of achievement? We have choices in life, yet some things we feel may feel like we have to do. Add activities to your day that make you happy. Sign up for that art class, start reading again, cook because you love it, clean for the feeling you get after everything is put away, the list can go on and on.

Changing Thoughts

Lastly remember, changing thoughts is easier than changing feelings. Notice how you think when your first get upset, try to evaluate what you are thinking that is making you upset. In the earlier example, I gave of a child knocking over a mixing bowl a first thought could be, “Oh no! I have to start from scratch! I don’t have time, you’ve set back my day, I have one million other things to do!”. This thought can provoke anxiety, which quickly leads to frustration and anger. Below is a list of questions you can ask yourself if the moment:

  • What is it that’s really pushing my buttons here?
  • Why am I reacting so strongly?
  • What’s the worst (or best) that could happen?
  • How important will this be tomorrow? Next week?
  • Next month?

Remember using these skills takes practice, so be patient and kind to yourself. Allow yourself time to cultivate these skills. Success doesn’t happen overnight, but once on the road, you can reach your destination.

Lloyd-Richardson, E., Rolston, A. What is emotional regulation and how do we do it?. Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery. Retrieved from

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