How can parents support their child’s mental health through emotional learning?

Part 3 of 3. 3 tips you can implement to support your child’s social-emotional learning and mental health

Written by Cindy Hovington, Ph.D. Founder of Curious Neuron or @curious_neuron, Host of the Curious Neuron Podcast and Co-Founder of Wondergrade

With several pediatric organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declaring that we are in a children’s mental health crisis, we need to find ways to educate kids about healthy ways to cope with emotions. The main takeaway from this 3 part series on mental health is that there are many skills we can teach our kids that contribute to their mental health. In Part 1, we learned about the importance of our own mental health as parents as well as assessing behavior changes since this can be linked to their emotional well-being or mental health. Part 2 of this series highlighted the importance of practicing gratitude, self-compassion and connectedness (which have all been tied to protecting our mental health!). In the final part of this series, let’s break down 3 important strategies you can teach your child to help them move past uncomfortable emotions.

A little reminder that emotion regulation is an important skill that needs to be developed over time. Emotions help us to respond to a perceived or real environmental stimulus. Even though we don’t have a perfect definition of what an emotion is, we can define them as a biological state that results from feelings, behaviors, and thoughts.

We feel a variety of emotions (as we talked about in this Instagram post) and knowing them is one of the first steps toward good emotion regulation. Dr. Marc Brackett’s work at Yale and his book called Permission to Feel are great starting points to help us identify 64 emotions we can experience at various levels of intensity.

Emotion regulation (ER) is when a person understands their different emotions and can influence when and how they experience and express them. An individual that is not capable of managing their emotional response to everyday events is more susceptible to psychopathology.

To help with emotion regulation, different strategies have been used. Over the years they have been divided as:

Adaptive and/or protective (when they successfully reduce negative state and restore emotional balance);

Maladaptive and/or risk factors (if they only provide short-term relief and fail to reduce negative affect).

Adaptative ER strategies lead to good psychological well-being whereas maladaptive ER strategies have a strong association with a wide range of psychopathology (depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and eating disorder symptoms).

A review in 2009 found that three emotion regulation strategies have been associated with protection against psychopathology (adaptive):

Reappraisal (when you try to look at the positive side of a stressful situation. Self-compassion and gratitude play a large role here as well);

Problem-solving (conscious attempts to change a stressful situation or contain its consequences – you don’t modify the emotion, but modify or eliminate the stressor);

Acceptance (component of mindfulness, the ability to be present and accept thoughts, feelings, and sensations as they are to promote good outcomes).

Three strategies have been associated with risk factors for psychopathology (maladaptive):

Suppression (suppression of emotional expression – could work in short term, but over time is less effective in regulating emotions);

Avoidance (the opposite of acceptance);

Rumination the habit of obsessing over negative events that happened in the past (source: Verywell Mind)

Now that we have the science, here are 3 takeaways that will support your child’s mental health:

  1. It starts with your child’s environment. How are you and anyone in your child’s home modeling healthy emotion regulation?
  2. Create habits that support their emotional well-being such as mindfulness, gratitude, a community and self-compassion.
  3. Teach them adaptive coping strategies. We often don’t have control over our environment and what causes us distress, however, we have control over how we respond to distress. The more we can learn to control our response, the happier we feel.

All 3 of these points lead to an emotional well child and adult with a lower risk of mental illness. It isn’t easy work but we can all create small goals to support our child’s mental health. I hope this series was helpful! Feel free to reach out through if you have any questions!

Meet Dr. Cindy Hovington

Cindy Hovington is a mom of 3 and has a doctorate degree in Neuroscience from McGill University. She is the Founder of Curious Neuron, an online science-based resource focused on emotional learning and mental health in kids of all ages. Curious Neuron has a community of over 129,000 parents on Instagram (@curious_neuron) and recently launched their YouTube channel. She is the host of the Curious Neuron Podcast, a top parenting podcast in Canada, the US and the UK. She is also the co-founder of Wondergrade, an app that helps children ages 3-8 develop healthy emotional coping skills. You can try the app free for 2 weeks here or visit Dr. Hovington is a regular parenting expert on CJAD800 and has been highlighted in Montreal Times, Today’s Parent, and the Bump. She has worked with companies such as Pampers, Airbnb and Pok Pok.