Regulating Emotions

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By Valorie Dassel, MSW, LCSW, LCAC, Youth First, Inc.

In the era of social media, we’ve probably all watched a viral video of an adult throwing a temper tantrum in public. Imagine if the people in those videos had the skills to calm themselves down before expressing a reaction.

If they were able express their emotions in a healthy way, imagine how different and more in-control of themselves they’d feel. Imagine how much stronger their relationships could be if they possessed emotional regulation skills.

The benefits of having quality emotional regulation skills are boundless. Being able to regulate emotions allows a person to identify their feelings and choose an appropriate reaction that will not result in negative consequences.

As an adult and a parent, being able to regulate my emotions helps me be the calm in my child’s storm. It’s hard to help someone else regulate when you’re not regulated yourself. For children, having self-regulation skills will allow them to feel more confident, respond better to conflict, and build healthier friendships.

Now we know why these skills are important, how can we learn to consistently model self-regulation skills? First, let’s note that not all emotional dysregulation looks like fit throwing. According to Psych Central, it can also look like crying spells, binge eating, self-harm, and poor frustration tolerance. When we notice these symptoms in ourselves or our children it is important to move in the direction of regaining control of the emotions and responding appropriately.

Becoming dysregulated is a limbic system reaction. Calming yourself with sensory input can be a great first step when feeling dysregulated. Ideas for sensory input include a tight hug, petting a pet, holding ice cubes, or listening to calming music.

Grounding techniques can also be very helpful in bringing a dysregulated person back to the present. Grounding techniques look like identifying things outside of you in the moment (five things you see, four things you hear, three things you feel or touch, two things you smell, and one thing you taste.) Using all five senses can have a quick calming effect.

Once the work has been done to calm the initial reaction, take time to acknowledge what the feeling really is. Maybe it is anger, or maybe it is frustration, jealousy, disappointment, or fear.

The next step is to identify that actions can be taken to move through this moment. If you’re helping your child manage these emotions, you might also have to help them identify the natural consequences that could come with decisions they make.

If you have a child who is struggling with emotional regulation the best place to start is by ensuring you’re modeling healthy regulation skills yourself. It is always okay to seek professional assistance if you feel it is needed for you or your child.