How YOU Can Help your Child with Emotional Self- Regulation

As a mum or dad, you’ve obviously seen your child have the odd tantrum. We expect them in two to three-year-olds don’t we!  However, if your child has got to five or six years old and is still having regular meltdowns and outbursts of anger, it could be that he or she is struggling with self – regulation.

So, what exactly does self – regulation mean?

Self – regulation is the ability to manage your emotions and behaviour in any situation. Teaching your child how to self- regulate is one of the most important skills they will ever learn. Some children have an instant reaction to a situation – for example, little Johnny takes the car from Dillon and Dillon reacts by grabbing Johnny, pulling him by the hair and hitting him whilst screaming at him.

Perhaps Amelia has asked her mummy if she will buy her a new toy, but mummy has explained that she can’t afford it at the moment, but if she behaves well, she may get it for her birthday or Christmas. Amelia immediately has a meltdown – screams hatred at her mum and hits and lashes out!

But why CAN’T some kids self – regulate?

Some children, as babies, cannot self soothe. They need picking up out of the cot every five minutes for cuddles. They need a dummy – they need a bottle before they can sleep -these are the types of children that may not be able to self – regulate as they get older.

When a child has a tantrum, because he can’t have his own way, and the parent gives in, the child will continue to have tantrums every time he hears the word “ NO” because he knows that a tantrum will get him what he wants. The same as when a child won’t go to sleep on his own – he wants mummy or daddy to lay with him until he goes to sleep and has a complete meltdown if mum should leave the room. If mum keeps giving in – he will keep being unable to self- regulate.

How can we teach self – regulation skills?

The key to teaching these skills is to make sure that you or the child do not avoid situations which he may find uncomfortable or difficult to deal with. Teach these skills in exactly the same way you would teach a child ANY new skill. Explain what the child needs to learn, lead by example as well, and let the child practice. The use of glove puppets in role-playing is a brilliant way to help a child learn self – regulation skills. The word “discipline” doesn’t mean punishment – it means to teach. A lot of parents do think that discipline means to punish, and it doesn’t – we don’t need to punish our child for having a meltdown – we need to teach him how he can prevent it himself. In psychology, we call this

scaffolding”– because what we are doing is building a sort of a framework to help the child until he has mastered how to self – regulate.

Imagine a situation which might produce a strong negative emotion from a child. A frustrating homework project perhaps. If the mum hovers over the child too much – the risk is that she will take over the regulation role. Scaffolding will mean that mum might help the child with the first task and show his how to work it out and then make him do the next one himself. She could teach him that if he starts to feel frustrated or cross because he thinks he can’t do it, he can get up and get a drink – walk around a bit and then get back to it after a short break. Mum can check in on him every so often and offer praise for his efforts.

“But mornings are so BAD,” say the mums

Many mums say to me “But the mornings are SO bad, we don’t have TIME for me to stop and teach him these skills – we have to be out of the house by 8 am to get them to school!”

I understand this and there IS a way to solve this! Break down the different things that you have trouble with, in the mornings, they could be:

  1. Getting him out of bed
  2. Brushing his teeth or washing
  3. Getting dressed
  4. Eating breakfast

Target one step at a time. First, say, getting up by 7 am. Once he’s mastered that, set a target time for washing and brushing teeth, and add that. Chunking these tasks into small steps allows him or her to build self-regulation skills in manageable steps.

One of the mum’s who brought her little girl to me for therapy for emotional self – regulation said:

“The reason I took Chloe (7) to see Elaine was because she seemed incapable of regulating her emotions. The mornings were particularly bad because we had to get to school and I had to get to work so I was becoming more and more frustrated and then Chloe would have a huge meltdown and I would hate leaving her at school so upset – it would upset me for the whole morning. However, within just two or three sessions, Elaine had taught Chloe these little techniques whereby she could regulate her own emotions and now our mornings are so much easier – we even sat and had breakfast together this morning which was lovely! “

So, the mornings and bedtimes CAN be easier if you teach your child to self – regulate. If you need advice do contact me through my website:

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