The Terrible Twos (and Threes, and Fours, and Fives…): Emotional regulation for Children

Emotions. Much of the time they seem so hard to keep in check, even as adults. Either we’re told we’re oversensitive and feeling too much, or we’re bottling them up and not feeling enough! An incredibly complex balance. So, how can we possibly teach our children to get it right?

We’ve all heard of the “Terrible Twos”; those awfully difficult times when your infant is no longer wordless and immobile. Now, they are learning to speak their mind, and doing it with incredibly loud, torturous and often public tantrums. What they don’t advertise is that these Terrible Two Toddler Tantrums often persist into the Threes, Fours, Fives and so on.

But don’t worry, all hope is not lost! These kinds of tantrums and challenging behaviours are often children’s only way of showing us that things are too big, overwhelming and unmanageable. Further, when most adults don’t have a good grip on handling emotions, its entirely understandable that children will need help learning how to manage them.

This complex process of emotional regulation begins from your child’s infancy. When an infant cries and their caregiver soothes them, they begin to learn that emotions are manageable; that there is something you can do about them, and that they pass. As your infant grows, they then need to learn to identify what it is they’re feeling, as we cannot do anything helpful until we first know what we’re dealing with. As your child begins to understand what “sad”, and “angry” and “tired” feel like, their parent can then help them learn what they can do to get through it.

Even as adults we often need the support of our loved ones. In the same way, your child needs you to be their safe base, welcoming them in, comforting them, soothing them, and being with them in their difficult times. If they know that you’re there to help ride out the storm with them, those difficult emotions become a whole lot more manageable.

Now I’ve made this sound fairly simple, but as we all know, emotions are tricky things to manage. It can be very difficult to identify exactly where your child is at, how much they can manage, and how to support their next step in developing emotional regulation. These dynamics unfold around us everyday, but it’s impossible not to miss things in the hustle and bustle of our daily lives!

This is where video interaction analysis in Marte Meo can come in to slow the process down. Using this developmental support program, short videos of you and your child are taken whilst playing, and in a more structured situation like a game with rules. These videos are then analysed second by second, to show you what skills your child has developed in these different contexts, and where they still need support. Using video, you can then be given feedback on a concrete and practical way you can provide this next step in everday interactions with your child. If you think your child might benefit from this detailed support to better manage their emotions, you are welcome to make contact with our child psychologists here at Attuned.

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