3 steps to Emotional Regulation - how to help the child regulate emotions

Emotional regulation is a process -  quite complex process. Emotional regulation is not about learning one specific behaviour like switching on and off the light.

Emotional regulation is about learning how to respond according to a situation – if a child needs to go to a nursery often it causes distress; if a child needs to go to a dentist and endure pain obviously it is going to scare the child; if a young person has to do a maths test it will be anxiety provoking, etc. and so on.

All these situations require a child to go through unpleasant emotions and find ways to endure them whilst accomplishing the task at hand - a day in nursery, having a tooth filled, doing the test.

When children lose control – a tantrum, meltdown, aggressive outburst, panic etc. we may need to help the child to come back to their emotional baseline.

If a child is out of control and becomes dangerous to oneself or siblings or you do all you need to do to keep people safe first! Use common sense – goes without saying…

However if you deal with a moderate level of emotional dysregulation try out the following steps:

Time delay - refrain from adding your fuel to the fire– avoid reasoning, pleading, explaining, asking questions, expecting explanations in the middle of the child’s meltdown, tantrum, outburst etc.

Avoid doing the above when you, yourself are upset, angry shocked by what the child does.

If you are in the reptilian brain mode (emotional and feeling brain) and the child is in this reptilian brain mode there is no point trying to think and talk.

You both need to be in the thinking brain mode to have any meaningful conversation.

To calm down the child you need to come yourself down first. Do anything which used to work in the past. Take your time – a day or two or a week if you need to.

These are ways of calming down you may want to experiment with:

  • Splashing water on your face/cold shower/ cold drink of water
  • Singing or chanting
  • Gargling
  • Meditation
  • Deep breathing
  • Laughter
  • Move around
  • Massage yourself

All of the above activities stimulate the vagal nerve in our nervous system. This nerve’s job is to calm us down.

1. When you are calm sooth, comfort, quiet down the child.

2. When you are calm and when the child is calm – even if it required two days of conscious calming down; come back to the problem. You are now able to use your thinking brain mode. This is the time when you will be reasoning, explaining, asking questions and giving the consequences for inappropriate behaviour.

You may want to use this coaching process to facilitate the conversation with your child.

Do not hesitate to set the boundaries by giving the consequences (loss of TV time, computer time, additional chores, etc.). The consequences are very helpful for children to learn emotional regulation.