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Emotion Regulation Skills, Tips And Strategy

Emotion Regulation Skills, Tips and Strategy

By: Dr Lisa Wittenhagen with collaboration of Dr Amelia Shay and Therapy House Team in Brisbane

What is Emotion Regulation?

Emotion regulation is the skill of regulating our emotions and linked behaviours.

Emotion regulation skills are useful for everybody!

This blog summarises the basic concepts of emotion regulation and provides you with some tips.


Emotions are our internal experiences in response to a certain trigger. Emotional experiences often come with different bodily sensations, resulting in a behavioural response.

This means that emotions can make someone feel in a certain way, and they can also cause someone to act in a certain way.

We are thought to have eight primary emotions:

  1. Anger
  2. Sadness
  3. Happiness
  4. Surprise
  5. Fear
  6. Disgust
  7. Shame (or guilt)
  8. Interest (or expectation)

Primary emotions are originated to keep us safe, to help us seek pleasure, or to reach a goal. Secondary emotions are emotions such as hope, jealousy, shame, frustration, or trust. These emotions are often triggered by the experience of any of our primary emotions.

From an evolutionary perspective, emotions are thought to help us achieve our goals in a safe way. Sometimes, though, emotions can get in our way. Most often when our emotional experiences are too intense, not strong enough, or stay with us for too long.

Emotion Regulation Skills, Tips and Strategy - Therapy House Brisbane

Emotion Regulation in Yourself and Others

Regulating emotions involves intentionally moderating the intensity of the emotions we experience.

Here are a few examples of decreasing or increasing positive or negative emotions, in yourself or others:

Emotion Regulation Skills, Tips and Strategy - Therapy House Brisbane

Emotional Literacy

To be able to increase or decrease the intensity of our emotion, we need to learn to recognise emotions as they arise. To notice our emotions and name them is called emotional literacy. The first step in emotional literacy is recognising emotions in yourself and others. Other elements of emotional literacy include the understanding of:

  • why someone might show a particular emotion
  • the difference between helpful and unhelpful emotions in a given situation
  • how emotions can influence thoughts, and behaviours
  • how others will react to us when we have an emotional response

Emotional literacy can help us react to uncomfortable or difficult situations in a safe and constructive way.

Many parents wonder what to do when children have intense emotions. It is indeed a difficult experience to observe your child going through a tantrum and not knowing what to do! If you are one of these parents, firstly you should know that you are not alone. It is quite difficult to help someone when they have an intense emotional reaction. In fact, others’ (including your child’s) emotional reactions, can create an intense emotional response in you as an observer.

In any situation like this, it is important to learn to recognise your own emotions, before you can help your child or another person.  Emotional literacy is an important first step in emotion regulation. It will not only help you to understand your own emotions but will also help you to better understand and recognise someone else’s emotions.

Having good emotional literacy will help you to:

  • understand your own emotional reaction when your child is having strong emotions
  • be able to validate your children’s emotions
  • be able to pick the right emotion regulation strategy in a particular situation.

The ability to identify and understand emotions is an important first step in developing helpful emotion regulation skills.

child Emotion Regulation Skills- Therapy House Brisbane
Emotion Regulation Skills

Emotion regulation is how to regulate our emotional reaction. As we said before, an emotional reaction should be appropriate to the situation. As humans, we all experience a range of emotions and they can sometimes be intense, or not quite situation appropriate. As such, emotion regulation is something we all deal with on a daily basis. For example, when your boss comes to your office and lets you know that you haven’t done your job as expected, you might get really frustrated, but you need to tone down the frustration to be able to have an appropriate response. However, in order to be able to regulate our emotional response, we first need to identify our internal emotional experience. Then we need to have had enough practice in using emotional regulation strategies, to be able to apply them when the situation arises.

Emotion regulation has three core features:

  • To identify what we want to achieve
  • Picking the right emotion regulation strategy
  • To understand what the consequences of changing an emotion might be

The emotion regulation target/aim

To be able to identify your emotional regulation target/aim is an important first step. This may include to identify if you would like to regulate your own emotions, support someone else to regulate their emotions, or both.

Emotion Regulation Strategy - Therapy House BrisbaneThe Emotion Regulation Strategy

The right choice of an emotion regulation strategy often depends on your emotion regulation target/aim.

We can divide emotion regulation strategies into 5 categories[1]:

  • Select the environment
    • This strategy involves taking actions that make it more likely that we/you end up in a situation that one expects will give rise to desirable emotions (or will make it less likely to end up in situations that give rise to undesirable emotions).
      • For example, arranging a play date for your child.
  • Change the situation
    • This strategy involves the direct modification of a situation to change the emotional impact.
      • For example, a parent can suggest games to play on a rainy day to avoid boredom and frustration
  • Change your focus of attention
    • This strategy involves directing attention within a given situation in order to influence one’s or someone else’s emotions. This is one of the first emotion regulatory processes during development and is particularly helpful when you cannot modify or select a situation.
      • One of the most common forms of attentional deployment is distraction
  • Change the way you are thinking
    • This strategy refers to modifying how one appraises a situation to change its emotional value or significance. One particularly well-studied form of cognitive change is called ‘reappraisal’
      • For example, when you made a mistake, you can see it as an opportunity for new learning something rather than seeing it as failure
  • Change your response
    • This strategy refers to directly influencing already initiated components of an emotional response.
      • For example, you take a deep breath when you notice feeling agitated, or you make a conscious effort to stop yelling at somebody

The Emotion Regulation Outcome

The emotion regulation outcome is the impact on the emotion dynamics. That is, emotion regulation can affect the timing, duration, and intensity of emotions.

Some strategies are more or less effective in how they influence short- and long-term outcomes, and as well as how they affect someone’s experience of a particular situation. For example, suppressing certain behaviours might change a situation immediately and lead to a desirable outcome, but this strategy does not necessarily have a long-term effect and a particular situation might repeat itself.

It is also very important to understand that the effects of different emotion regulation strategies may vary from situation to situation and can be different for different individuals – there is certainly a no one-fits-all solution.

Emotion Regulation Tips - Therapy House BrisbaneTips for Emotion Regulation

  • Reframe the way you perceive your own or your child’s emotional response. Validate your own and others emotional experiences: All emotions are OK and they are there to help us. There should not be any shame or guilt in experiencing certain emotions.
  • As children learn through observation, it is important to model the right behaviour. Notice if your own behaviour is not aligned with what you expect your child to do.
  • Explore in a calm and curious way what triggered a tricky situation (AFTER everyone has calmed down!).
  • Slow the situation down – take some time to stop and think before reacting. Take some deep breaths, drink a smoothie through a straw or blow some bubbles!
  • Rest and relax. We need energy to be able to apply our emotion regulation skills.
  • Help your children to name the emotions they are experiencing. For example, express the emotions you are experiencing yourself on a regular basis – Remember, children learn through observation.
  • Children may need help putting together what the triggers were for an emotion and what they can do to feel better again. Providing a narrative such as: “the dog knocked the chair over, you got a fright and cried, I gave you a cuddle and that made you feel safe again” can help.
  • Connecting throughout the day can give children a chance to express thoughts and feelings before they build up. Things like talking while playing a game or chatting while driving in the car together can provide a chance for conversation in a natural and non-threatening way.
[1] Gross. (2014). Handbook of emotion regulation (Second edition.). The Guilford Press.

If you live in Brisbane or like telehealth appointments talk to the Therapy House team about emotion regulation. We also run a kids emotion regulation workshop and a parenting workshop.

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