Emotional Regulation

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Emotional Regulation


Regulating our emotions is an ability that we all struggle with at times. We will all have experienced being overwhelmed by anxiety, thoughts and events that are often out of our control. As adults we have good language skills which can often help us work through our difficulty by talking to friends, family and colleagues. We also have life experience that we can draw upon. For children the only way of communicating their distress and anxiety is through emotional outbursts.

Managing children with difficulties in emotional regulation requires careful, considerate and compassionate responses. Management can be divided into proactive and reactive actions.

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Reactive strategies

When the child is distraught or being aggressively angry they may respond to one or more of the following strategies:

giving time to calm down - wait until they are totally calm before dealing with incidents
distracting activities such as drawing, Lego, wordsearches, reading, maths sheets
avoiding escalating the situation by giving ultimatums and threats
designated space to go to - agreed in advance a good place which the child knows they can use when necessary
reducing sensory 'noise' by making the environment less busy, quiet etc.

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Proactive strategies

This is about providing the child with activities and skills to help them be more able to emotionally regulate. Activities need to be taught and practiced when the child is calm relaxed and cooperative. Adult time is required to teach and support the child develop these skills and to embed them through regular practice over several weeks. Strategies that can be helpful include:

breathing exercises
developing emotional awareness through rating scales
escape cards
muscle relaxation
sensory soothing activities e.g. weighted blankets, calm music etc.
visualisation of a happy place, time and emotion
For older children and young people may also benefit from:
designated staff who the child or young person can talk about issues and anxieties. In school this should ideally not be someone who is predominantly in a disciplinary role.
signposting to telephone and Internet based advisory and counselling services who can provide anonymous support.

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You may also be interested in the following pages:

Calming Strategies

Emotional Regulation Resources

Rating Scales

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