For many children, particularly those with Autism or ADHD, controlling emotions and reactions to stressors is very difficult. The term “Emotional Dysregulation” refers to an inability to properly regulate emotional reactions to stressors of any kind, whether large or small, and often manifests in temper tantrums, acting out, and other harmful behavioral patterns. A diagnosis of Emotional Dysregulation is not a life-sentence, however, and often children can be taught coping skills to regulate their emotions.
One important skill for children with emotional dysregulation to learn is to control their breathing. Often, upon becoming upset, a child will start to breathe in short, rapid gasps that will only serve to perpetuate emotional turbulence. Teaching a child to take longer, slower breaths when they are upset can help them to calm their emotions.
A great exercise to help kids learn healthy breathing habits is to have them think about a mug of hot chocolate. Have them practice breathing in through the nose, imagining the smell of cocoa, then breath out through the mouth, as if to cool the hot chocolate down. This fun exercise helps give the child a concrete reference point of what proper breathing feels like that they can call on during periods of high emotional stress.
Another important tool for children struggling with emotional dysregulation is the ability to ground themselves with all four senses. One helpful trick is to create a “sensory kit” full of objects that engage each of the child’s senses but that is small enough to be carried around and pulled out in the event of a meltdown.
For more ways to help dysregulated children cope with their emotions, check out this article by therapist Marianne Riley on the topic.
At Casa Pacifica Centers for Children and Families, we help children dealing with severe emotional dysregulation, along with other challenges, to find a safe place of hope and healing every day. If you believe your child may benefit from intensive therapeutic care, or if you would like to see what you can do to help, visit us today at: https://www.casapacifica.org/