Children, like grown-ups, struggle with controlling their emotions. When they are overwhelmed with emotions, they might let those out through difficult behavior like tantrums, yelling, or biting (which goes to show that those outbursts don’t always mean they aren’t well-disciplined).
Emotion regulation, the ability to express one’s feelings in constructive instead of disruptive ways, is a vital life skill; Medium refers to it as the “premier skill of the 21st century” and writes that, according to research, it is an important predictor of mental health, social relationship, academic achievement, and work performance.
1. The ability to regulate emotions is a sign that a child is ready to go to school.
“The more structured preschool and school environments present a unique set of challenges to children — challenges that require emotional readiness,” says Dr. Susan Calkins, a professor of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of North Carolina Greensboro.
Dr. Calkins notes that a child who lacks emotion regulation skills will not be able to establish positive relationships with her peers and teachers and is at risk of social rejection because she can’t express herself or manage her feelings in age-appropriate ways.
Dr. Tali Shenfield, an expert in school psychology and child clinical psychology, writes on Advanced Psychology Services that kids with poor emotion regulation skills also tend to struggle with concentrating and underperform in school.
2. Emotion regulation skills benefit kids in all areas of life.
In an article for HuffPost, Kenneth Barish, Ph.D., a clinical associate professor of psychology at Cornell University’s Weill Medical College, writes that, according to research, children who can regulate their emotions are better to settle conflicts with their peers and exhibit lower levels of physiological stress. They also behave better and care for others more.
The implications of impaired emotion regulation skills continue until adult life, according to Dr. Calkins. “These kids who lack skills to control their emotions and cope are also more likely to experience depression and academic and health issues and to engage in substance abuse and risky sexual behavior later in life.”
3. A child who can manage her emotions well feels validated.
Dr. Shenfield says that kids need to know that their emotions are validated before they can even begin working on their emotion regulation skills. Kids who don’t think they are “heard” feel a stronger urge to act out. Conversely, kids who feel validated become less rigid and demanding and more willing to cooperate in solving issues.