Self-regulation is the foundation for every interaction that we have. If children don’t have control of their emotions, they can’t learn or connect (Dr. Jody Carrington, Kids These Days). Even if you’re coming to OT to work on your pencil grasp, we are going to learn about regulation skills.
Being regulated means that your energy level is appropriate for the situation that you are in.
For example, when it’s time to eat a meal, you would like your child to be calm and ready to sit. But, when they’re outside playing tag, they should be running, laughing, and have a louder voice. As you can imagine, our brains and bodies aren’t always ready for the activity that we have planned! Sometimes we need to do something that will give us MORE energy.
More often than not, we need to do something with our kids that will CALM their bodies and brains. This is called co-regulation, since an adult is almost always involved in helping to guide the child in becoming more regulated.
When we are talking about emotional regulation, we often begin with talking about moods. It is really difficult to tell how we are feeling. Often we look at the body and the face for signals about how we or others are feeling. When someone is mad, they typically have a furrowed brow and they might have a tight mouth. When someone is excited, their eyes are usually wide, and their mouth is probably open. Both mad and excited might have a loud voice.
Some emotions are more difficult to identify. Is your child feeling silly, or are they actually a bit nervous about meeting someone new? Understanding emotion is an important part of co-regulation.
Understanding moods means checking in to see how we are feeling. The idea is that we check in throughout the day, so that kids can understand that our mood changes depending on where we are, who we are with, and what we are doing - and that’s OKAY!
A great first step is checking in ‘for’ your child. For example, the pizza you ordered just arrived and the kiddo starts jumping up and down and yelling. It’s okay for you to say, “Oh my goodness you are so excited for the pizza!”
Sometimes, it can be tricky to check in when you are in the moment. For example, your child’s sibling just smashed
the lego that he’s been working on all day. Now is not a great time to say, “Heyyy, how do you think you’re feeling?” That’s a great way to get lego thrown at you! He is mad, and that is okay. All emotions are okay. Instead, once he has calmed down, ask the question - “How do you think you were feeling when your lego got wrecked?” You can coach your child further by telling them some of the things that you noticed. You could point out that you saw his hands curl into fists, and his voice got really loud. These are concrete signs that told you he was mad.
Check-in with all members of your family throughout the day to see how they are feeling. The actual check-in is verbal, but there are different strategies and tools to help reinforce what you’ve talked about.
You could create a personalized emotion wheel with pictures of your kiddo, or have them draw the emotion that they were feeling. You can also build body awareness by completing a body scan - start at the feet and work your way up, asking your child how each body part is feeling. They might need some cues: are your legs feeling tight or loose; wiggly or still?
Understanding emotion is like any other skill - it needs to be practiced. Once you have a better understanding of how your child’s brain and body are feeling, you can coach them to help gain the right level of energy for the activity or environment that you are in. Stick around for future posts about how to coach your child when they’ve ‘flipped their lid’.
Leave a comment or send me an email if you would like information or guidance with emotional regulation.