Erica Sewell, LCSW, RPT, Certified Autism Specialist
Picture this: a child melts down after losing a game of Sorry!, or refuses to attend school, or go to a sleepover because they are so anxious. In these cases the child’s emotions have been hijacked and are running the show.
“Emotion regulation is the ability to control how we react to our feelings.”
Emotions become problematic when they are too intense, overwhelming and we are not able to effectively cope.
Children and adolescents with ADHD, learning differences, autism spectrum disorder and those with language difficulties are more susceptible to emotion dysregulation.
A metaphor I like to use is a volcano:
- The feelings start out small and as triggers are added it heats up till everything becomes too intense and overwhelming and the volcano explodes.
- The explosion or dysregulation can result in an emotional response that is not in tune to the situation such as internalizing and withdrawing or physical behaviors (hitting, kicking, yelling, etc.).
As a parent, you play an essential role in helping your child learn to regulate their emotions.
How you can help your child regulate their emotions:
- Model talking about your own feelings so that your child can observe and copy your coping strategies. I know not everyone is comfortable talking about their feelings so a good place to start is to say “I feel/felt (happy, sad, angry, etc,) when/because…” This sends the message that talking about feelings is ok and that riding the rollercoaster of feelings is normal.
- Encourage your child to talk about their feelings and depending on their developmental level they may need help labeling their feelings. A feeling chart with a few basic feelings can be helpful. http://csefel.vanderbilt.edu/modules/2006/feelingchart.pdf
- Validate a child’s feelings instead of saying directives such as “don’t get mad about that” or “there is nothing to worry about” because this limits the child’s feeling vocabulary and expression.
- If you notice that your child is starting to escalate stay calm. Your reaction can help to either escalate or de-escalate a situation.
- Watch for triggers- face turning red, clenching fists, withdrawing, change in facial expression, tone of voice, etc.
- Offer words of encouragement when your child talks about their feelings or uses a coping strategy.
- Put together a Cool Tool Toolbox for children or a Chill Skills Toolbox for teens with coping strategies tailored to their needs. Check out the January newsletter for tips!