Many parents believe in a myth that, if applied to all facets of parenting, can be very harmful to the youngest members of the household. This belief is the idea that children should just relate to their emotions by expressing them spontaneously, without making an effort to learn from them or from the consequences of regulating them in one way or another.

In fact, helping children learn to control their emotions is fundamental . Below we will see why this is so and how we can help them get used to living their emotional side by making it play in their favour.

Why is it good for children to control their emotions?

It is important to keep in mind that although the way we experience emotions in the first person is subjective, the consequences of expressing them in one way or another are objective. So much so, that a good part of the process that makes us adults consists of mastering some basic emotional regulation skills that allow us to achieve long-term objectives and live in society.

If we take for granted that the only thing that matters is to experience emotions, without more, we are feeding a philosophy of life that sees the emotional and affective aspect as something of which we are passive subjects and of which we only participate as receivers. The ideal is, in any case, to be clear that one must and can consciously influence the psychological processes linked to feelings and affections … and that this skill should be taught already during childhood.

How to teach children emotional self-control

So, below we will review some tips on how to encourage children to control their emotions according to their goals and interests, rather than just being a recipient of emotional states.

However, it should be noted that very young children, 7 years old or younger, will have difficulty thinking about certain nuances attributable to emotions. For example, they will understand what "fear" means, but they will have a hard time understanding what is the fear of not being able to do something. That is why parents and guardians must adapt to the degree of abstraction in which the child is capable of thinking.

1. Educates in affective prediction

Affective prediction is the mental ability that allows us to establish predictions about our emotional state in the future. Focusing on this skill makes it easier for children to learn why it is useful and good to learn to manage emotions, since it encourages the habit of comparing expectations, on the one hand, and reality, on the other .

One suggested activity, for example, might be to ask the child to think about how he or she thinks he or she will feel if he or she goes to talk to a child with whom he or she would like to become friends, and to ask the child, once he or she has gone to meet that other person, to think about how he or she feels and compare his or her emotional state with what he or she predicted. In these cases it is very common that a much higher degree of fear and tension has been predicted than is later experienced.

2. Teach him to defer gratification

The ability to defer gratification is one of the most important, as it allows for long-term goals that require giving up others in the short term but bring much greater benefits.

Setting challenges based on putting in a time frame during which you have to give up a prize to access a more important goal is very good, as it generates the habit based on constant effort that will bring its fruits in the long term.

It is important to bear in mind that the younger you are, the more difficult it is to put off the rewards; the idea is not to exceed this minimum time during which one must endure, as this would make the task seen as unrealistic.

For example, if you estimate that there are some math activities to be done at home that will take about half an hour to complete, you can divide that half hour into 10 or 15 minute segments, at the end of which there are a few minutes of rest or leisure time.

3. Don’t reward their tantrums

This is very important. Some parents, without realising it, make up for having a tantrum , as these situations cause discomfort and uneasiness, and giving what you want is the simplest way to make the immediate problem go away. However, society does not work that way.

On the one hand, the family is the only group of people who have the duty and responsibility to spend time with that future adult, so the rest have no reason to consider giving in to that blackmail, and on the other hand, getting angry does not help one to learn to solve things by oneself , but quite the opposite.

Thus, one of the best ways to help young children, or children in care, learn to control their emotions is simply not to give rewards for expressing their feelings of anger and upset in extreme ways.

4. Build together explanations of failures

Controlling emotions is always putting a certain amount of effort into being able to aspire to long-term goals or those that have to do with participation in social circles. Frustration can make children embrace the idea that regulating emotions in order to reach long-term goals is useless, and that the renunciations made along the way have not been worthwhile.

So it is good that in situations that can produce frustration, the older ones help the younger ones to understand what has happened, and to see that where at first it seemed that efforts have been in vain, what has happened is that there has been a greater chance of success, although it may not be evident.

For example, if after studying more than usual for an exam the grade received was bad, the child may think that this result would have been exactly the same as if he or she had given in to the feeling of fear and not bothered to face this discomfort by exposing himself or herself to the uncomfortable task of practicing with exercises that one finds difficult. Making him see that behind this apparent failure there has been progress is key.