How Youth Learn Emotion Regulation

How Youth Learn Emotion Regulation

Parents and families often provide the initial examples and lessons for youth regarding emotion regulation. Youth learn about emotion regulation from their parents and families through three primary mechanisms: observation of others’ emotion regulation, emotion coaching (fostering awareness and reflection, suggesting strategies, and encouraging problem-solving 35), and the emotional climate within the family.36 However, youth live within multiple environments beyond the home and can use these same mechanisms to learn from other nonparental adults and their peers. In addition, youth may adopt rules from the other environments in which they live, specifically those that are widely accepted within broader cultural and social settings regarding expression and management of emotions.65, 66 Adolescence provides a laboratory for youth to learn and practice skills like emotion regulation.

Through these mechanisms, parents, nonparental adults, and peers teach both healthy and unhealthy strategies that help form youth’s emotion regulation skills, and these skills are associated with positive55 or negative56 outcomes. When there is a healthy attachment in the relationship, youth are not only likely to feel supported and safe to express themselves but also open and receptive to others’ efforts to teach socially acceptable ways to regulate their emotions.13

Peer relationships can provide youth program staff with information and opportunities to provide emotion coaching to youth in the program.

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While families have a significant role in children’s and youth’s emotion regulation, peers can significantly influence each other’s emotion regulation.1 In particular, healthy peer relationships have been found to have a positive impact on youth’s emotion regulation, empathy, and overall adjustment.57, 58 In addition, when youth are in neighborhoods where there is higher violence and/or danger, having friends with better emotion regulation skills and tendency toward prosocial behavior significantly improved the adolescent’s behavior.59 Furthermore, these youth were less likely to engage in delinquent or aggressive behavior than youth who had friends with poorer emotion regulation skills and less tendency toward prosocial behavior.

Nonparental adults (e.g., mentors, teachers, etc.) can also impact a youth’s emotion regulation.60 Nonparental adults in school, faith-based groups, after-school programs, or youth groups have opportunities to teach emotion regulation strategies through modeling and emotion coaching.61 Although caring, nonparental adult-youth relationships are the cornerstone of successful youth programs and set the foundation for positive youth outcomes,62 there is limited research regarding how adult-youth relationships in youth programs influence youth’s emotion regulation skills.35 Some examples do exist and suggest youth who reported caring and trustworthy adults at school were significantly less likely to have a past suicide attempt than youth who did not,63 suggesting an association between the presence of supportive adult relationships and better ability to use positive emotion regulation skills. In another study, youth who perceived their sports youth program to be caring and supportive reported greater ability to regulate both positive and negative emotions.64

It is important to be aware of the impact culture and society may have on emotion regulation. Youth live, work, play, and are influenced by multiple environments each day.65, 66 Youth tend to live with parents/guardians, attend school, participate in extracurricular activities, and may belong to a religious organization, etc. Rules for how emotions are expressed or suppressed in each of these environments may contradict each other.67, 1 Coupled with physical and mental changes, this shifting landscape of social and cultural rules may confuse youth and make their social interactions difficult.

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Understanding Peer Relationships
This workshop includes practice for reflecting on, discussing, and brainstorming ways of fostering healthy peer relations among youth. Successful implementation of this workshop will assist staff in understanding the ways that healthy relationships between peers in the program support positive youth development.