How Self Regulation Empowers Young People to Move Beyond Their Emotions

How Self-Regulation Empowers Young People to Move Beyond Their Emotions

Young people have more demands on their attention than ever before. Juggling school, extra-curricular activities and constant interaction with technology, they need to be able to make good decisions, despite any stressful situations that may come up in their lives.

Student stress is prevalent in schools. Findings from the Toronto District School Board survey on student mental health found:

  • Almost a third of the grade seven and eight students surveyed said they are concerned about relationship issues such as making friends and fitting in
  • Nearly half worry about family matters all the time or often; the majority have anxiety about school work all the time or often
  • 59 percent worry about their future
  • 11 percent feel unable to overcome difficulties all the time or often

Between juggling school, home life, extra-curricular activities, relationship issues and constant interaction with technology, they are expected to be able to make responsible choices in spite of all the emotions and stressors they encounter daily.

In order to make responsible choices, be resilient and confident, young people need to learn the essential skill of self-regulation – a skill that will improve their emotional and mental well being.


Self-regulation is training your brain to recognize your behavior, emotions, or thoughts, and learning to deal with them in healthy ways so you can return making choices from the character traits that mean the most to you (i.e respect, loving, compassion, responsible etc)

There is a growing awareness that the more young people can self regulate, the easier they are able to move through tough emotions and stressors so they can choose how to respond to the circumstances in their lives.

So much of what happens to all of us can be reflected back to our inability to recognize our emotions and stressors.

These emotions and stressors can be triggered by our own thoughts or through the words and actions of others. Young people must first choose to believe that they are capable of making personal changes when the need arises.

I believe self-regulation is like a muscle – it can become depleted, but it can also be exercised and strengthened.

There are many ways to exercise the muscle of self regulation. Here are 3 of my favourites:

1. Mindful Breath

When a child’s brain is taken over by emotions like frustration, anger, disappointment, they are more likely to become disengaged and start to make choices from their emotions, which blocks their ability to think with a calm, clear mind. When consumed with emotion redirecting them becomes almost impossible.


When my 3 1/2 year old son is overwhelmed in emotion, I bend down so I am at his eye level and I say, ‘Kai breathe. Take a deep breath in and out.’ I breathe with him. We repeat ‘the breath’ 3 times or whatever amount he needs in order to calm and redirect him. Here is a great article I found on breathing for self regulation.  In this article you will find different ways to teach the young person in your life to breathe in order to restore calmness.

2. Create a list of healthy ways to release emotions

Knowing how to positively release emotions in advance helps the emotionally charged child to better cope with challenges and stressors. Since everyone is different, each child will need their own list of what calms them down and brings them back to feeling more balanced. Moving through their emotions in a healthy way will allow them to return to making choices from their character traits.

Personally, baking is my go-to for releasing emotions. It’s something that I enjoy and it soothes me. Plus, I get the pleasure of sharing it with my husband and son Kai.

Since I present in schools every day, I decided to ask students their Healthy Ways to Release Emotions. Here are the most common ones that the students shared:

UPower Ways to Release Emotions

3. Make choices from character traits instead of emotions

Circumstances bring up emotions. Many young people are making choices out of these emotions. These emotions not only feel overwhelming but they also feel permanent. Emotions are Temporary. Choices can be Permanent.

It’s important for our children to understand that, since emotions shift & change from moment to moment, they are not a reliable place from which to make choices. The more reliable place for making choices that will give a better end result is called a Character END RESULT. Choices made from character traits, give young people the ability to see beyond their immediate emotions so that they can choose to be resilient, confident and respectful. When I make my choices from my Character END RESULT of ‘I Choose to Respect myself & others’ I am guided to make choices beyond my emotions which makes it easier for me to bounce back from challenging circumstances.

Even at the tender age of 3 my son has a character end result. His is ‘I Choose to Be Gentle’. We created this Character End Result for him because around the age of 2 every time he felt frustrated or angry, he reacted by hitting. I would say to him ‘Kai, I know you are angry. Just because you are feeling angry it doesn’t mean you can hit. However you can hit pillows, just not people.’ (hitting pillows is now one of his healthy ways to release and move through emotions).


I would then have him say, ‘I Choose Gentle.’ I would show him what gentle feels like by lightly running my hand over his cheek or his hand. Then I would ask him to show me what gentle feels like. If he did it too rough, I would ask him to show me again. When he did show what gentle felt like – I would praise him saying, ‘Yes, that’s choosing Gentle!’

Everyone, including my husband, family members, even his nursery school teacher, was on board with redirecting him and reminding him to ‘Choose Gentle.’ After a few months we all noticed a BIG difference!

Staying diligent, showing through example and providing constant reminders to your child is so important. We all want our kids, whether at home, in the classroom or out in the world, to be thriving and with this growing awareness of self-regulation we are witnessing the powerful benefits of opening up this important dialogue. In doing so we can create a space for a greater capacity for learning, mental health and well-being as well as positive social engagement and relationship building.

Do you have any fun exercises or tips to demonstrate and communicate self-regulation? Leave your comments below, or tweet me, I’d love to hear from you!