What is Self-Regulation?
Self-regulation is the ability to manage one's emotions and behaviour in a difficult situation. Children who are able to regulate their emotions find ways to calm themselves down after feeling distressed, angry or sad. As adults, we can help our children by not reacting to their childish behaviour (that can certainly be a challenge most days). Children need time to mature and regulate their emotions. Tantrums and outbursts are a sign that they have difficulty with emotional self-regulation.
What then can we do when things spiral out of control in a child's world? Here are a few suggestions that we hope are helpful in managing your child's meltdowns:
1. Meet their physical needs first
One of the things we can do first is to check if our children are hungry, tired or overwhelmed by the day's activities, especially if they have been away at school or childcare for part of the day. Give them a healthy snack after school to fill their tummies. Allow them to cuddle up with you as you read a favourite picture book! A hug goes a long way in fostering connection.
2. Give your child some quiet time to calm down
When our emotions spiral out of control, we need time to calm down. It does not happen instantly. More questions, wrestling and lectures will not improve the situation. Pick a quiet activity that your child enjoys and give him/her 10 minutes or so to breathe and be 'distracted' from the negative feelings bubbling inside.Calm-Down Bottles are a great tool to help children self-regulate their breathing and thoughts, as well as improve their focus. Sensory bottles have been used by parents, teachers & therapists to help children self-regulate their breathing & thoughts when they feel tensed & emotionally overwhelmed.
Filling up their own sensory calm down bottles will help children calm down, focus on a sensory activity & improve the way they react to things, plus enjoy watching the contents floats & swim in the glittery liquid.
3. Engage their senses in lovely, calming thoughts through play and music
“Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” - Berthold Auerbach
Play some happy, calming music and your crying child might just perk up and pay attention as his/her angry thoughts vanish . Have you heard of the Musical Marble Tree? It has been used in therapy, in particular for children with special needs to have a focal activity to calm down and soothe themselves with. Your child's attention will be drawn to the musical sounds of the skipping marble.
Playdough is an excellent sensory medium to help your child work with his/her hands, enjoy creating and taking in the calming lavender essence too. Your children will enjoy squishing, rolling, kneading and working their little fingers, and perhaps be more open to talk about a meltdown when they are in better spirits.
Emoticons Pebbles can help children talk about how they feel, or learn how to acknowledge their feelings. We have found them useful to just place in a basket on the table. Every day when the kids come home, we invite them to stamp an emoticon on dough to share how they feel. Sometimes their feelings don't come out immediately (for us we perk up to listen mostly at bedtime), but wait for it, they will open up eventually!
- "How are you feeling today?
- "Did you look like this in school today? Why?"
- "Can you tell me what happens when you are angry?"
- "How can we help you smile again?"
As parents and caregivers, we have the privilege to help our children be in tune with their emotions, manage the negative feelings, and bask in the joy of happiness too!