Understanding your child’s emotions can feel like trying to predict the weather. One moment, you’re enjoying that sunny smile; the next you’re watching storm clouds of frustration brewing over bedtime or a shower of tears about taking a bath.
Learning to manage the ups and downs of their emotional world is one of the most vital skills kids need to build as they grow.
As caregivers, we might not always feel prepared to teach a child how to regulate their strong emotions when we’re not perfect at it ourselves. But that’s okay—building emotional regulation is a lifelong practice for all of us. You and your child can deepen your bond as you learn new emotional skills, redirection techniques, and explore social emotional learning side by side. Here, we’ll share some emotional regulation activities for kids you can do together to build those emotional muscles.
What is Emotional Regulation?
Simply put, emotional regulation is the ability to understand, manage, and express emotions in a healthy way. It means keeping cool when things go wrong.
It’s not about holding emotions in or ignoring how we feel. Instead, it’s about:
- Becoming more aware of and in touch with our feelings
- Learning what triggers our emotions
- Learning how to respond to feelings in ways that are appropriate for the situation
As you talk with your child about how to process difficult feelings, remember: The goal is to understand and handle emotions, not hide them.
After all, even challenging emotions like anger and sadness are there for a reason. When we express negative emotions in healthy ways, they’re the tools that help us speak out, stand up for our needs, and hold our boundaries.
Why Is It Important to Teach Emotional Regulation Skills for Kids?
Especially for young children, any big emotion can feel like a tidal wave—huge, powerful, and uncontrollable. When kids don’t know how to control their intense emotions, that wave can knock them right over. Without the tools to do anything else, your child may end up crying, yelling, picking on their sibling, or exhibiting other “challenging” behavior.
Emotional regulation provides the know-how to ride out that big wave and come out the other side still on course.
And regulating our emotions is just as vital for success in the wider world as skills like reading, writing, and math. Kids who can regulate their emotions better have been shown to1:
- Be more successful in the classroom
- Have stronger social skills and peer relationships
- Bounce back from stress better
Teaching emotional regulation is helpful for neurodivergent kids, too. Studies show that autistic children and children with ADHD or FASD show decreased anxiety and increased emotional regulation when they practice mindfulness and deep breathing exercises.2,3,4
How to Help a Child Regulate Their Emotions
The journey to emotional wellbeing begins with a simple yet powerful step: identifying our emotions.
You can teach this by encouraging your child to recognize and label their feelings, starting when they’re in a calm state. When you make open conversations about feelings a regular part of everyday life, you build a foundation of self-awareness your child can rely on under stress.
Shape an emotional awareness habit by:
- Building their emotional vocabulary – Children don’t start out with words to express what they’re feeling. To start teaching emotions, try posting a colorful feelings chart on their bedroom wall to practice connecting words to emotions.
- Talking about what triggers big feelings – When feelings take us by surprise, they’re always harder to cope with. Whether it’s sharing toys, cleaning up after themselves, or feeling left out, notice the areas where your child tends to struggle and talk about it before the emotional storm begins. Ask them what might help next time it happens—could they suggest taking turns? Could they ask for help?
- Letting go of judgment – Emotional regulation starts with simply noticing the way we’re feeling at this specific moment in time. Those feelings don’t have to change or be judged. Remind yourself and your child that any emotion is okay.
- Teaching healthy responses – We can’t always stop the things that make us upset—sometimes it’s just not our turn with the toy. Kids can be aware that emotional outbursts like yelling, grabbing, and arguing aren’t the best solutions, but they don’t always know where to channel those big feelings instead. Show them self-regulation skills like deep breathing to calm down, doing a stretch or yoga pose, or wall push-ups to burn off energy.
Emotional Regulation Activities for Kids
Emotional regulation may be a vital skill, but learning it doesn’t have to be serious business. Here are three fun activities you can do with your child to build comfort with talking about feelings and learn new skills to manage them:
Activity 1: Name That Emotion
This activity helps kids learn how to spot different emotions and connect them with physical sensations.
- Get comfy – Sit down with your child and ask them to close their eyes and take a few deep breaths.
- Tune in to your feelings – Ask your child to notice anything they’re feeling. Are they calm, happy, worried? Something else? Remember, any feelings are okay here.
- Connect with the body – Ask if they can feel the emotion in their body. They might notice things like feeling light, tight chest, feeling hot or cold, butterflies in the tummy, etc.
You can also expand this activity with a set of feelings card game. Take turns drawing cards and talking about how each emotion makes you feel inside. Connecting emotions to how we feel in our bodies is an important step in emotional intelligence and managing strong feelings before they overflow.
Activity 2: Listening to Music
Music is proven to affect emotion regulation in numerous ways—it can soothe us, cheer us up, make us sad, or fill us with energy.5 Putting on music is a perfect way to help your child explore the rainbow of emotions.
You might try:
- Energizing dance beats for brightening a sad mood
- Comforting classical for soothing anxiety
- An album of sing-along songs like Together We Shine to build emotional vocabulary while having fun
Activity 3: Deep Breathing Exercises
First, choose a quiet time and place—bedtime is a good choice. Next, sit facing each other or side-by-side, whichever is most comfortable for you and your child.
Now, you’re ready to start focusing on your breathing.
Activity 4: Nature Walk
Researchers are learning more every day about how vital time in greenspace is for our mental health and overall wellbeing.6 Whether that’s your local park, woods, or just your own backyard, try to give your child at least a few minutes of outdoor time every day.
A nature walk is the perfect simple, relaxed mindfulness activity that lets your child move, breathe, and just be.
As you walk, take time to:
- Be aware – Talk about what you notice with each of your senses.
- Stay grounded – Practice deep, regular breathing. Feel your body and your feet on the ground.
- Let your child take the lead – Stop when they want to examine an insect. Take a detour when they spot a side path. Let them have space to think and feel.
Activity 5: Body Scan
A body scan is an easy way to get in tune with the body, notice all the small sensations we usually miss, and become more grounded in the present. It’s a useful technique for children who become anxious, fidgety, or overwhelmed because it can be done anywhere.
- Start by getting comfortable—kids can do this activity sitting or lying down
- Have your child start thinking about how their whole body feels, starting at the toes and working their way up to their head, one body part at a time
- Notice sensations like tingling, pressure, tightness, warmth, or cold
- Notice how these sensations change as you breathe and relax
Slumberkins' Feelings Resources
Ready to help your child work on emotional regulation but not sure where to begin? You don’t have to tackle it alone. Slumberkins has resources that cover it all, from stress to anger to self-acceptance and beyond:
- Browse our mindfulness collection for a wealth of resources designed to help kids connect with their emotions and learn to manage them in healthy ways.
- Check out The Feels collection for even more activities, lesson plans, and games about feelings.
- Play with Yeti, who’s all about mindfulness for kids—she’s the perfect companion for any child who needs a little help putting words to all those big feelings inside.
Explore Emotional Well-Being With Slumberkins
Our feelings are like a world inside us that’s just waiting to be explored. And when that world is just a bit too big for our child, you can provide the right tools of emotional discovery.
Slumberkins is always ready to go on that journey with you. Dive into our collection of cuddly Kins, interactive kits for imaginative play, books, games, and more, and find all the tools you need to help your child thrive.
- Korucu, Irem et al. “Self-Regulation in Preschool: Examining Its Factor Structure and Associations With Pre-academic Skills and Social-Emotional Competence.” Frontiers in psychology vol. 12 717317. 18 Jan. 2022, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2021.717317
- Hartley, Matthew et al. “Mindfulness for Children and Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Their Caregivers: A Meta-analysis.” Journal of autism and developmental disorders vol. 49,10 (2019): 4306-4319. doi:10.1007/s10803-019-04145-3
- van der Oord, Saskia et al. “The Effectiveness of Mindfulness Training for Children with ADHD and Mindful Parenting for their Parents.” Journal of child and family studies vol. 21,1 (2012): 139-147. doi:10.1007/s10826-011-9457-0
- Flannigan, Katherine et al. “A Systematic Review of Interventions to Improve Mental Health and Substance Use Outcomes for Individuals with Prenatal Alcohol Exposure and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.” Alcoholism, clinical and experimental research vol. 44,12 (2020): 2401-2430. doi:10.1111/acer.14490
- Hennessy, Sarah et al. “Music and mood regulation during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.” PloS one vol. 16,10 e0258027. 20 Oct. 2021, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0258027
- Barton, Jo, and Mike Rogerson. “The importance of greenspace for mental health.” BJPsych international vol. 14,4 79-81. 1 Nov. 2017, doi:10.1192/s2056474000002051