Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


3 Steps to Emotional Success

Three steps are proven to help children be calm and make better choices.

We live in challenging times. There is no shortage of things to feel stressed about, from the Australian wildfires to the hate-filled attacks on American soil. Today’s world needs more emotionally healthy adults, as well as children who can bounce back from the inevitable challenges of life and help others do the same.

Along with bouncing back from challenges, it’s important we proactively help our children early on to learn how to self-regulate, calm down and make smarter choices even when emotionally charged. This is where the “Three Steps to Emotional Success” from my book, The Emotionally Healthy Child, can help. The steps, which are simple but not necessarily easy, are:

  1. Stop
  2. Calm (and center)
  3. Make a smart choice

Because as we learn to slow down and stop before heading in a direction where we make destructive versus constructive choices, our lives get better. Of course, this sounds straightforward, but as we know, it takes practice. There are no perfect parents, professionals, teachers or children, but in learning these steps we move forward versus backward in our emotional development.

  • Stop: Children, as you know, move quickly, and helping them slow down and stop is the first step in helping them change emotional directions. The emotion may be something helpful like excitement, but too much of it can cause them to knock something over in the dining room, so the three steps are for emotions that are both helpful and challenging. Of course, when children experience challenging emotions, it’s essential to slow their momentum and help them steer themselves in a new, healthier direction.
  • Calm: Calming is something we learn throughout our lives, but certainly the things that helped me calm as a child still help me calm as an adult. Remember, you are helping your children build lifelong tools of calming and centering. I grew up on the east coast of the U.S., and I would go into nature to feel calm, and today, on the west coast, that remains a regular way for me to calm (besides meditation and laughter). While I may have climbed more trees when I was little, today when I walk among the awe-inspiring redwoods, my stress lifts off instantly.
  • Make a smart choice: Along with stopping and calming, the ability to make a smart choice is essential. Whether a child decides to scream or take deep breaths, push her sister or use her words, or throw a book across the room or walk away, these choices all have an impact. Choices are best made when the emotional intensity of a situation has lessened, which is why step two (calm) precedes making a smart choice. Choices that are good for you and good for others are smart choices. Although I am specifically talking about emotionally charged choices, they can really be choices about anything in life. If your child was planning their birthday party list, they could think about what they’d like to eat and what others would enjoy, too—and that’s a smart choice.


Healy, M. (2018). The Emotionally Healthy Child. Novato, CA: New World Library.

More from Maureen Healy
More from Psychology Today