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  • Writer's pictureAlma Community Care

Supporting Emotional Self-Regulation in Children

By Claudia Rios-Gastelum, LMFT 97284 Para este blog en ESPANOL,

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With in person learning beginning this fall and Covid-19 still interrupting our lives, we thought it would be good to remember our four part series last fall on Childhood Anxiety. We hope the wisdom of our therapists brings healing, help and hope to you and your children as we continue to navigate our new normal.

We’ve spent the last few posts discussing the benefits of supporting emotional intelligence in children. Today we are going to discuss tools for adults to feel confident in managing distressing emotions experienced by children. The best tool that adults have for helping children during big emotions is to be aware of their own emotions and stay calm. However, this can be easier said than done. Parenting is one of the toughest responsibilities we have as adults especially if we experienced our own parent’s difficulty in supporting our big emotions as children. Therefore, it is beneficial to acknowledge that there might be certain situations or emotions that automatically may be more challenging for us to tackle. The following 3 steps in self-regulation were first introduced to me during a training by a psychiatrist and neuroscience researcher, Bruce Perry, M.D., and I have found it helped my work in supporting both children and adults.

1) Regulate Physical Aspects of Emotions: Like we have discussed in an earlier post, our body’s emotional response is the first link in a chain of reactions, and this part of the process is one of the most important aspects of staying in control. We can support this phase by taking relaxation breathes. I like to start with purposefully taking a 4 second inhale air through my nose, holding that breath for 5 seconds, and slowly exhaling the air out through my mouth for 6 seconds. Your child may ignore or refuse prompts to use relaxation breathing, but you can model relaxation breathing. Other ways of calming little bodies is to engage in repetitive movements such as walking, dancing or drawing. This step may take time as there is no correct length of time for this phase.

2) Relate with Empathy: Once your child is calm or on their way to getting calm, offer a hug or words that acknowledge what your child is feeling. Some parents may find that they become overwhelmed by certain feelings and may need to take a step back. Taking our time to calm down can be a great tool as long as we return to our child and connect with them again. When we acknowledge what our child is feeling, we let them know that we see what they are feeling, that their emotions matter to us, and thus, they matter to us.

3) Reason: The last step is to introduce problem solving discussions with our child once they have calmed down enough to hold a conversation. This step might take some time, but you may find that your child is able to reflect or hold a conversation once calm rather than in the heat of the moment. Demonstrate curiosity over their feelings as well as what your child believes would be helpful to them. Some children may need more guidance in developing problem solving skills, but when done collaboratively, a child may be more open to trying a new skill than when told what to do.


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