The “Big Six” of Emotional Regulation For A Child

Category: Play Therapy


In today’s fast-paced world, filled with uncertainties and challenges, fostering a supportive and understanding environment for our children is more important than ever. Here, we explore practical strategies for parents to support their child’s emotional wellness, encompassing everything from being emotionally available to setting loving boundaries. Experts often call these strategies the “Big Six” of regulation, which are essential components in aiding your child in managing their emotions effectively.


  1. Modeling:
    Children learn a great deal from observing the adults around them. You can model healthy emotional regulation by expressing your feelings in a calm and controlled manner. For example, if you are feeling frustrated, you might say, “I’m feeling a bit frustrated because I cannot find my keys. I will take a deep breath and think about where I last saw them.” This shows your child that it’s okay to feel frustrated and that there are constructive ways to deal with those feelings.
  2. Validating Feelings:
    Acknowledging and validating your child’s feelings helps them feel understood and supported. If your child is upset because he can’t play outside due to rain, you might say, “I see that you’re really upset because we can’t go to the park today. It’s disappointing when our plans change, isn’t it?” This validation can be the first step in helping him learn to process and express his emotions healthily.
  3. Managing Stress:
    Teach your child simple techniques for managing stress and calming down. A practical example could be teaching him to use “belly breathing” when he’s upset. Guide him to take slow, deep breaths, filling his belly like a balloon and then slowly exhaling. You can practice this together during calm moments so he knows how to use it when he’s feeling stressed.
  4. Problem-Solving:
    Encourage problem-solving skills by guiding him through simple conflicts or challenges. If he’s having trouble sharing toys with a friend, you could suggest, “I see you and [friend’s name] both want to play with the same toy. What if we set a timer for each of you to play with it for a little while? How does that sound?” This approach teaches him to think of solutions and understand the concept of compromise.
  5. Understanding Triggers and reading cues:
    Help your child become aware of what triggers his emotional responses. If he tends to throw tantrums when transitioning from one activity to another, you might discuss this pattern with him during a calm moment. “I’ve noticed that it’s really hard for you to stop playing with your toys and come to dinner. What can we do to make it easier?” Identifying triggers together can help him become more self-aware and prepare for challenging situations.
  6. Practicing Responses:
    Practice how to respond to emotional situations through role-play or storytelling. You can use his toys to act out scenarios where one toy is feeling sad or angry and then show how the toy might ask for help or use words to express its feelings. For example, if a toy “drops” its ice cream, you could demonstrate the toy saying, “I’m really sad I dropped my ice cream. Can we please get another one?” This helps your child learn appropriate responses to his emotions and situations.


Incorporating these strategies into your daily interactions with your 4-year-old can significantly support his emotional regulation development. Remember, the key is consistency and patience, as these skills take time to develop and master.

Marina Blalock, AMFT