How Can Emotional Regulation Promote Resiliency?

Have you ever lost your cool over something that seemed pretty small afterwards?

I know I have.

Looking back, you might think that whatever is was that caused an emotional outburst seemed pretty insignificant, but in the heat of the moment it was the only thing that mattered. As adults, we usually blame our own overreacting on being over-tired, over-stressed, hungry, and over-worked.

Although this is all true for adults, we must remember how much this also applies to kids. While adults tend to have high stress with jobs, family life, and financial stress, we also have years of experience with dealing with our emotions and learning how to regulate how we act in any given moment.

Compared to kids, adults also have fully developed frontal lobes in their brains. This helps us critically think through a situation and sift through the emotions that we choose to indulge in, or the ones we choose to stay in control of.

Kids (and teens!) don’t necessarily have the same level of emotional regulation. While kids and adults might feel the similar emotions in a given situation, kids lack the same frontal lobe development that might help overcome an emotional outburst. In this case, the emotional control center of the brain – the amygdala- overrides any critical thinking in the frontal lobe and catapults the rest of the brain into an emotional-driven frenzy. That’s where we might see temper tantrums, screaming, moodiness, crying and what we might consider “over-reacting” to a situation.

On top of that, kids also lack the experience and tools needed to help overcome these strong emotions and learn how to keep them in check.

So what does emotional regulation have to do with resilience?There are a number of key building blocks that help grow resilience in kids. One of these building blocks is emotional regulation. Emotional regulation is the ability to experience the whole spectrum of human emotions while controlling the outward actions and behaviours that might come with these emotions.

Emotional regulation is also the ability to recognize a strong negative emotion and use critical thinking and cognition to decrease this emotion so that you can respond in an appropriate way.

Strong emotion –> critical thinking –> decrease in strong emotion –> appropriate behaviour response

When kids develop emotional regulation, they can process the negative emotions that come with failure or challenges and respond in a healthy way.

For example, if a child who lacks emotional regulation loses a game of soccer, you might expect them to get angry that they lost, maybe start yelling or crying, and decide that they don’t want to play soccer ever again.

In contrast, if a child who has strong emotional regulation loses a game of soccer, you might expect them to feel disappointment about losing, but consider how they might improve their skills and try to win the next game.

When kids are able to regulate their emotions, they can bounce back from set backs and learn how to overcome challenges in the future. And this, of course, is the first step to becoming more resilient.

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