All babies and children will have different emotional reactions to situations, such as:
- needing sleep
- being too hot or cold
- being handled by someone
- being uncomfortable
Some may be calm and others may feel more agitated and need more help from you.
You're the best person to help your baby deal with their feelings. This is because you have spent time getting to know your baby and their cues.
Watch a video on helping your baby regulate their emotions
Tolerating and managing intense feelings is called emotional regulation. Your baby begins to learn it from their earliest interactions with you.
As a parent, you can support your baby to manage their feelings. This is called co-regulation.
You do this by:
- noticing your baby’s feelings
- staying calm - this will help them to be calm
- responding to their distress by being there with them - for example soothing, talking to them and cuddling them
Co-regulation is the first step to self-regulation. Self-regulation is when your child starts to learn to manage intense feelings independently. This is a fundamental skill for positive mental health throughout life.
As they become toddlers, children will learn ways to soothe themselves.
They could do this by:
- cuddling a teddy
- holding a favourite blanket
- gentle movements
- talking or babbling to themselves
Your toddler or young child will still need your help to cope with their intense feelings. You can help by noticing their feelings and staying calm.
You can respond by:
- comforting your baby when they seem uncertain
- asking yourself what your baby is feeling right now - are they annoyed, frightened, frustrated or sad?
- putting your baby's intentions into words ("You wanted to keep playing but we had to leave. You’re sad we had to leave.")
How this helps your baby
Your baby will get the message that you hear them and know they're upset. They'll learn that your hugs make them feel better and your voice is calming and shows you're near. Your smile means everything will be OK.
These everyday interactions help your child to learn ways to manage their intense feelings. These include distress, anger, sadness or over-excitement.
Over time, your baby will:
- know how to make themselves feel better when they're upset
- learn that adults are reliable and will look after them
- trust other people who take care of them, such as at pre-school