When emotions run high, people do and say things they normally would not. When you’re a young child, this is what you do all the time.
Emotional self-regulation, a large component of emotional intelligence, is the ability to manage one’s experience and expression of emotions. With practice, children improve their capacity for emotional self-regulation. By age four, most children start to use strategies to eliminate disturbing external stimuli. In other words, they cover their eyes when they’re scared and plug their ears when they hear a loud noise.
It’s not until age 10 that children consistently use more complex strategies for emotional self-regulation. These strategies can be broken down into two simplistic categories: those that attempt to solve the problem and those that attempt to tolerate the emotion.
When a child can make a change to address a problem, they engage in problem-focused coping by identifying the trouble and making a plan for dealing with it. When they deem the problem unsolvable, they engage in emotion-focused coping by working to tolerate and control distress.