Regulate Emotions and Control Impulses: Activities to Help Your Child

Emotional self-control is an essential skill for daily living and interaction with others.

Children with poor emotional-regulating skills are more likely to have problems with aggressive behavior, anxiety, and even depression. As a matter of fact, research has found that how much self-control a person has as a preschooler can predict how well they will regulate emotions later in life.

Clearly, learning self-control must begin in early childhood.

For your child to be able to regulate emotions, you must teach them how to control impulses. How can you accomplish that? What activities can help your child to regulate their emotions?

Daily Activities That Require Your Child to Regulate Emotions

These are activities that you and your child probably do on a daily, or almost daily, basis. There’s no need to go out of your way. But if you realize you’re not doing them very often, make a consistent effort to consciously include them in your daily routine.

Consistent repetition is important for your child to truly learn. Every time they control impulses successfully, they’re learning strategies to regulate their emotions in other situations as well.

Children learn to regulate emotions and control impulses when:

  • waiting – in a line at the store or food place, for meals while sitting at a table, for food to cool down before eating it, or for a person’s attention or assistance
  • playing – side-by-side with others without touching or interfering with their project, cooperating with a playmate, play independently for a limited time while a parent attends something or someone else, or waiting for their turn
  • doing one thing before doing another thing – put away toys before taking out new ones, or wash their hands before eating
  • practicing doing only one of something – take only one cookie out of the jar, push the elevator button or the doorbell only one time
  • reading together – wait to turn the page, sit calm, or pay attention
  • having a specific place for something – a chair for reading and coloring, a spot by the door when ready to leave, or walk on the sidewalk for safety reasons
  • cooking, baking, or gardening – wait for the results, like a cake or meal be finished, or the plant to grow and bloom

Games That Help Teach Your Child to Control Impulses

Any time you ask your child to play by rules, you’re encouraging them to learn self-control and emotional regulation. Focus specifically on games that teach careful listening, paying attention, following directions, waiting, and taking turns.

Consider playing such games as Red Light/Green Light, Simon Says, Musical Chairs, Hide and Seek, or Freeze Tag. Many of these games are old-time favorites and you may remember playing them as a child. For the most part, they’re better played in groups, but you can adapt some of them for when it’s just you and your child.

There are also a lot of games that require moving to music at a certain pace – fast or slow – or games that incorporate doing something to a specific count – like hopping or clapping hands. Plus, for older children, games such as Charades, Slap Jack, Pictionary, and other board games present impulse control challenges. Consider your child’s age when selecting what to play.

To make it even more challenging, mix it up by putting a twist on a game. For example, when playing Red Light/Green Light you can change up what the commands mean. “Red light!” becomes go and “Green light!” becomes stop. It will encourage your child to go against habit and to inhibit their impulses. Similar things can be done with other games.

Every time you make a change, your child has to regulate their response anew – helping them to work out their brain muscle. So, practice, practice, practice! And have a ton of fun!