The Importance of Emotional Regulation During the Holidays

As parents, you may know that adolescence is the life stage in which your teen is transitioning to adulthood. During this phase of development, teens need to learn how to keep calm even when upset, resolve conflict, problem solve, and make mature decisions. Although any time of the year is the perfect time to model these skills for teens, the holiday season is when adults are put to the test. Between the stress of shopping, potential conflicts with family, and managing the many responsibilities that come with the season, staying cool under the stress of it all can show your teen that it’s possible to stay emotionally regulated.


What is Emotional Regulation?

Emotional regulation is the ability to control or manage emotions. Someone who is strong in emotional regulation knows how to keep their feelings in check. This is an essential skill for adults and teens. However, teens are going to need practice with this. You see, the adolescent brain doesn’t fully develop until roughly age 22. And the part of the brain that governs logic, reason, and impulse control is still under construction. Without the logical part of the brain fully developed, teens can often display impulsivity and emotionality.


Adolescents aren’t going to be good at emotional regulation at first. However, they’re going to need it as they get older. And now is a good time to start teaching them about this skill. When emotions are strong, or when they come on quickly, it can feel as though feelings have great power. Some emotions can feel overwhelming, and even frightening at times. In fact, some teens may turn away from overwhelming feelings through the use of drugs, drinking, risky behavior, or aggression.


Some of the most challenging emotions include:

  • Fear
  • Grief
  • Despair
  • Powerlessness
  • Hatred
  • Rage
  • Unworthiness
  • Guilt
  • Shame
  • Hopelessness
  • Loss
  • Disgust
  • Misery
  • Remorse

If teens can learn early on about how to manage their emotions, they will have one of the most necessary skills for a successful and psychologically healthy adulthood.

Emotional Regulation versus Emotional Awareness

To learn how to stay emotionally regulated you need to be emotionally aware. Developing emotional awareness is another skill that teens are going to need – both in adolescence as well as in adulthood. To regulate or manage emotions, a person needs to be aware of them first.


Emotional awareness is the skill of knowing what you are feeling, why you’re feeling it, and what physical sensations you are having as a result. It’s is also the ability to understand the relationship between what you are feeling and how you choose to behave. All of these facets of emotional awareness are not easy. It takes time to develop. However, when someone has emotional awareness, they have the ability to identify and express what they are feeling moment by moment as well as choose how to respond to them.


Emotions can take many different forms:

  • They can come on like a tidal wave and feel huge and overpowering.
  • Some emotions are so familiar and happen so frequently that it’s hard to know that you’re experiencing them in the moment. They may be subtle yet consistent.
  • Other emotions are subconscious, which means that on some level a person is cut off from their emotions; they’ve lost the ability to feel their feelings.

Regardless of the intensity, frequency, or familiarity of emotions, emotional awareness invites a person to continue to practice staying emotionally in touch with themselves. Over time, as the skill of emotional awareness improves, even those subtle, under-the-surface emotions will start to make themselves known.


More importantly, as emotional awareness gets stronger (meaning that a person is getting better and better at identifying the emotions they are feeling in the moment), then the skill of emotional regulation also improves.


What Does this Have to do with Parenting?

Children and teens internalize the images of their parents. If a young child often sees their parents getting angry, losing their temper, or getting overwhelmed with emotion, there’s a good chance that the child will also grow up with similar emotional skills. However, if a parent can model emotional stability and regulation, then a child will more likely learn this skill instead. In fact, one of the essential ingredients of parenting is helping a child calm down, regardless of their age. However, soothing a child first requires that a parent is calm themselves.


There are three emotional states that parents should be aware of in their children and teens:


Regulation: As mentioned above, this is the state of being emotionally stable. A person is calm, present, receptive, and aware in this state.

Dysregulation: This is the opposite of being regulated. It is when a person is not emotionally balanced. Instead, they may be crying, yelling, withdrawn, or shutdown. It is being in an emotionally overwhelming state.

Co-regulation: This is the experience of two people (i.e., parent and child) calming down together. This happens because one person (the child) is upset and needs another person (the parent) to help them calm down. Children and teens learn can learn emotional regulation through co-regulation. In other words, they learn how to regulate themselves when another person teaches them how through co-regulation.


Of course, parents don’t need to be perfect. Everyone has emotions that can get overwhelming at times. But in general if a parent doesn’t have the ability to regulate their emotions, their children won’t ever learn how to do it themselves.


More importantly, if a parent can stay emotionally calm or stable when their teen is upset, they can teach their teen how to calm down. Eventually, a teen can learn how to emotionally calm down themselves (versus reaching for drugs or alcohol or making other dangerous choices).

What Does this Have to do with the Holidays?


As mentioned at the start of this article, the holidays can be a stressful time. This can be the time of year when the to-do list gets longer, emotional stress becomes more intense, and family quarrels grow stronger. With all the stress, it’s a time when the emotionally stability of parents (as well as teens) may be put to the test.


In fact, it’s important to know that even if you’re not feeling emotionally overwhelmed, stress alone can lead to becoming emotionally unstable. In fact, knowing how to manage emotions is the same skill as knowing how to manage stress. The two go hand in hand.


Furthermore, when people are under stress, they tend to resort to their old familiar habits. For instance, if you were raised in a home where emotional regulation was not the norm, but later you learned how to manage your emotions, stress can sometimes bring you back to old behaviors. This is another reason to be mindful of your emotional stability this time of year – for yourself as well as for your teen.

Self Care Can Help Keep you Calm


Remember that if you’re feeling extra stressed, then it’s a time to give yourself extra time for self care. There are many ways to nourish and nurture yourself, but making sure your basic needs are essential. The following tips are for parents, and they can be passed down to children and teens as a means to reduce stress and facilitate emotional regulation.


Get Enough Rest – If you’re feeling anxious or stressed during this holiday season, one way to beat stress is to get enough sleep. Getting the right amount of sleep can have major implications on a your emotional, psychological and physical well being. And sleep is incredibly significant because of the dramatic changes in growth you’re undergoing as an adolescent. According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep is food for the brain. Adults needs roughly 8 hours of sleep, while most teens need about 9 to 9 1/2 hours of sleep. Getting the right amount of sleep each night during the holidays can help strengthen the immune system, give you more energy, and make you less vulnerable to stress.


Exercise. A recent study (October 2014) found that exercise not only helps in the treatment of depression and anxiety, it can actually prevent it. Exercise is so essential in one’s overall health that it should be up there with the need to eat. If you’re feeling stressed, angry, frustrated, or anxious, go for a run or walk, and see how you feel afterwards. This is especially true during the holidays. Exercise can also help with the health of the brain, including making new neural connections. If you want to keep stress away, remember to exercise regularly.


Make Healthy Food Choices. Three healthy meals should include at least 4 servings of fruits, 5 servings of vegetables, and 4 servings of dairy products. Yet, it’s easy to fill yourself with sugar and sweets during the holidays. At the parties and family gatherings, that’s what being served. However, if you can resist the temptation to eat poorly, you’ll find that your mind will be clear, your body will feel good, and your emotions will stay more balanced.


In addition to taking care of the basics, there are plenty of other self care activities that can help you and your teen stay calm. For instance, you might go for a run, get your hair done, experience a pedicure, spend time with a friend, go to the beach, take a vacation, or take a hot bath.


The point is that self care is a great way for you and your teen to maintain your emotional stability – even during the stress and strain of the holiday season.