Regulating Emotions

Think about the last time you were face to face with a child or teen overwhelmed by emotion. For that matter, think about the last time you might have felt that way. What did it take for the turbulent seas of emotion to become calm again, enough to think clearly and move forward? This transition is heavily influenced by time and maturity, but it is also a skill that can be developed. This is especially important to consider as a parent, and the more tools to try the better!

When I began working in residential treatment, and long before I was a parent myself, I would frequently make the mistake of trying to talk or process with a client overwhelmed by emotion. Far from being helpful, this often escalated their emotions further. Over time I learned the intervention that would have the most impact would come after emotions had calmed and rational thought had resumed.

Now, as a therapist and a parent, I collect emotional regulation skills and exercises like the precious jewels they are. The list below just scratches the surface and has been contributed to by teachers, mentors, and colleagues who have been generous with their knowledge like Life Adventures Counseling in Seminole, FL.

One of the most powerful tools for emotional regulation bears a special mention: time spent in the outdoors. This doesn’t have to be complex or related to a fitness goal. Simply being in nature soothes the frayed ends of our emotions and allows us to find a healthy rhythm again. Can’t go outside? Bring nature inside with sound, plants, images, and natural objects.

Everyone is different, so you may need to try more than one of these skills to discover which ones work best for you or your family:

  • Rocking Chair
  • Exercise Ball
  • Swings
  • Drum Sticks (You can always wrap washcloths or towels to muffle)
  • Jump Rope
  • Music (Requires attention to which music is regulating versus agitating)
  • Deep Breathing
  • Coloring
  • Walking
  • Talking (Similar to music, sometimes regulates and sometimes agitates)
  • Chewing something crunchy
  • Clay, play dough, silly puddy, slime
  • Sand tray or Zen Garden
  • Writing (3 minutes, 1 minute)
  • Meditation
  • Painting

I would love to hear more ideas! Send them my way and I will add them to the list (

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