As any parent or caregiver can attest, the emotions displayed in a young child are at times unexplainable and fickle. The attempts of adults to help children calm down, regain composure and avoid a complete meltdown can range from using a soothing voice, to distraction, to physically changing the current environment. This attempt at interfering and changing the emotional state of another is known in psychology as social emotional regulation.
Social emotional regulation is defined as one person, known as the regulator, intentionally trying to change the emotions of another, known as the target (Reeck et al., 2016). According to Reeck et al., developmental research highlights “that social regulation not only improves the current emotional state of the child but also enhances their capacity to self-regulate in the future” (2016).
This type of regulation is not limited to an adult–child relationship. Adults use it on each other as well. Research into romantic couples shows a bidirectional link between the couple and their emotional regulation; the two individuals both influence and are influenced by one another (2016).
Social emotional regulation is used to aide in self-regulating emotions because at times self-regulation is difficult. It can be difficult to get the full picture of personal emotional reactions or see the change in oneself while in the middle of the emotional experience; those with impaired neural functioning because of an immature, aging or impaired brain have decreased abilities to self regulate emotions (2016). These individuals may need help from others to regulate their emotions. Regulators do more than just suggest things that the other person can do; they actively “pursue strategies to change the nature, duration, or intensity of the emotional experience and expression of a target individual” (2016).
Regulating emotions is vital to maintaining good mental and physical health as well as good social functioning (2016). Social emotional regulation builds self-regulatory skills in both the regulator and the target; it can deescalate conflict, decrease negative emotions while increasing positive emotions, increase relationship satisfaction and “in turn may reinforce and improve social bonds and build trust both between individuals and groups” (2016). People who have friends who help them to recognize and process different emotions report greater life satisfaction and well-being (Bernstein, 2018).
For optimum mental health, it takes a community of people with different strengths and skills. Elizabeth Bernstein of the Wall Street Journal reports that people function best when they have “a village, or portfolio, of supportive people who have varied emotional skills” (2018). Dr. Margaret Clark, a psychology professor at Yale, says that one person usually doesn’t have all the emotional skills to help another through all of their emotions; one person may be great at offering encouragement, but not as good at calming (2018).
And just as it’s important to cultivate an emotionally supportive village, it’s equally as important for those suffering from mental health issues to prune the list of friends who aren’t supportive (2018). Clarissa Silva, a behavioral scientist, says being in a “toxic relationship” can lead to anxiety and depression (Shatto, 2018). Negative relationships can also lead to higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, which has negative effects on health. It is suggested that to improve mental health, one should leave a “toxic relationship” as soon as it is safe to do so (Shatto, 2018).
If the ranks of one’s village looks a little thin or there has been a recent pruning, there are ways to find new friends who can help moderate emotions. Joining a club, taking a class or volunteering are all good ways to find new friends. Knowing in advance that there will be contact with a supportive person can help to regulate moods in advance (Bernstein, 2018).
Bernstein, E. (2018, Jan 23,). Mental Health Takes a Village. The Wall Street Journal Retrieved from http://online.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/print/WSJ_-A011-20180123.pdf
Reeck, C., Ames, D. R., & Ochsner, K. N. (2016). The social regulation of emotion: An integrative, cross-disciplinary model. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 20(1), 47-63. Retrieved from https://www-sciencedirect-com.byui.idm.oclc.org/science/article/pii/S1364661315002272?via%3Dihub
Shatto, R. (2018). How toxic relationships affect your health, according to experts. Retrieved from https://www.elitedaily.com/p/how-toxic-relationships-affect-your-health-according-to-experts-8004072