Expert Opinion

How to teach your toddler about emotional regulation through craft

Unfortunately, our kids are not born with the skill of emotional regulation! This means one of the most important jobs you have as a parent is teaching your child how to handle their many emotions. This is a pretty big job – and one that seems to be never-ending, and flare up with ‘teaching opportunities’ right when you least expect (and need) them to!

Emotional regulation is a way to describe how we express our emotions and how we experience and modulate them within ourselves. It is such an important skill because it impacts most other areas of life – how your child engages with others, friendships, academic performance when they’re older, and their mental health.

I always speak with parents about being proactive when it comes to teaching new skills to children, and this certainly applies to educating your child about emotional regulation. Teaching this skill is about supporting their feelings and showing them how to adequately manage their emotions.

Teaching outside of the big, heightened moments means your child is able to take on new information more easily – but how can you teach them about emotional regulation outside of the moment AND keep their attention?

Enter: crafty therapy! As a Paediatric Psychologist, this forms the basis of many sessions we have with children – because they’re not going to come into my office and sit and talk to me about all their problems like an adult would! So, we need creative ways to engage them in sessions and teach them about various concepts. Here are two of my favourites that I’ve adjusted so you can use them at home with your littles:

  1. Calm jars provide visual sensory stimulation, in turn providing a calming and distracting effect. They can be added to a sensory toolbox for your child to help them regulate when feeling emotionally heightened. You can make one by adding glitter glue, glitter, and water to a clear jar or plastic bottle, sealing it up, and shaking it. Your child can watch the glitter slowly make its way down to the bottom of the bottle or jar. This encourages their mind to focus on the glitter which stops them from thinking about other things. It allows your child to be still for a moment and can really help with providing a fun tool for relaxation. Making it together is really fun as well!
  2. Worry Box – We’ve all had that moment, just as we are tucking our child into bed when they burst into tears and divulge their worries which they’ve bottled up all day long only to reveal right as mum or dad are about to put their feet up and relax! I always suggest making a worry box to avoid this – it allows you to set aside time each day to discuss any worries so that they don’t pop up at bedtime. Using an old shoe or tissue box, decorate and turn it into a personalised worry box. Spend time with your child writing down or drawing their worries on some strips of paper and put them in the box once you’ve chatted about the worries so your child has a sense of closure. This can allow the worries to not take up any more space in your little’s mind. Dedicating a time for this that is not close to bedtime means that worries shouldn’t pop up too frequently at inopportune times and impact sleep and bedtime.

So, hang on to your old bottles and boxes and get a collection of your crafty materials together so you and your child can get crafty and learn new ways of managing emotions.

About the author

Amanda Abel is a paediatric psychologist, mum, and founder of Northern Centre for Child Development (NCCD) and Hawthorn Centre for Child Development (HCCD) – multidisciplinary paediatric practices in Melbourne. Working directly and indirectly with hundreds of clients each year, Amanda’s mission is for every child to achieve their best outcomes by equipping families and educators with the tools they need to help kids thrive.
Amanda draws on her own experiences of being a parent along with her extensive training and well-honed skill set to get families thriving. Having worked with families for almost two decades, as a psychologist for the past 11 years in a variety of settings, and a valued board member of the Autism Behavioural Intervention Association, Amanda loves building the confidence of the adults in the lives of children so that they can connect meaningfully, help them reach their full potential, and live a life that reflects their values.
Often appearing on Channel 7 and 9 News and regularly featuring in print media, Amanda is on a mission to make the world better for kids through her clinical work, consulting to some of the biggest global toy manufacturers and educating the digital media industry about making the internet safer for kids.
Photo by Artem Podrez