What is emotional regulation?
The way we feel (or emotions) are always changing. Sometimes it can feel like we are “suddenly” out of control, and we go from 0-100 very quickly.
By understanding what the brain/body is telling us, we can learn strategies to help regulate our emotions.
“Emotional regulation refers to the process by which individuals influence which emotions they have, when they have them, and how they experience and express their feelings. Emotional regulation can be automatic or controlled, conscious or unconscious…” (Gross, J. J. (1998). The emerging field of emotion regulation: An integrative review. Review of General Psychology, 2(3), 275)
Recognising my emotion
Supporting children to recognise emotions can help them learn to reflect on what is happening in their own body.
- Name emotions on pictures of facial expressions. Have a discussion about how each pictured emotion is different from the next (e.g. mouth position, eyes, etc.)
- Use charades to demonstrate different emotions
- Discussions around how your child or their friend might feel in certain situations (e.g. if you knocked down James’ tower, how will he be feeling?)
- Encourage conversations about different emotions and ask questions about what is happening in the body (e.g. how do your muscles feel when you’re angry? What is your heart rate or breathing doing? Where do you feel sadness?)
- Reflect together on a ‘feelings thermometer’ regularly to communicate how they are feeling or associate a colour with a feeling.
Managing my emotions
There may be occasions where emotions suddenly change (e.g. finding out sad news, or getting angry quickly because someone unexpectedly took your toy), however usually there is a more gradual change in how we are feeling. Learning to recognise this gradual change and what their body is telling them is empowering, and allows them to use their strategies to regulate themselves earlier.
Having conversations with children to help them problem solve what their regulation strategies will be, can be very helpful for them. A strategy that works for one person may not work for another, and that is okay.
- Together, discuss ideas for calming down our body: e.g. blow bubbles, a hug, drink of water, deep breathing, patting the dog, weighted toy (across their legs if appropriate)
- Together, discuss ideas for speeding up our body: e.g. star jumps, doing errands for teachers, turning on the fan, fidget toys, movement breaks, putty, yoga poses
- Problem solve together how they can make themselves happy if feeling sad etc.
- Encourage the child to do ‘body checks’ regularly to see what their body is telling them, so that they can check how they are feeling and put strategies in place to manage their emotions
What Occupational Therapists can assist with?
Occupational Therapists can support with developing skills in emotional regulation, and problem solve practical solutions to empower children to be in control of their emotions as much as possible.
If you are needing some further support in emotional regulation – the therapists at Kids that Go may just be the answer you are looking for. Feel free to contact us on 07 3087 1904.
NICOLE NIJSKENS (Occupational Therapist).