Emotional Regulation Strategies and Tools

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Emotional Regulation Strategies and Tools

Today's post is a guest blog from my friend, Natasha Red. Natasha is a homeschool mom of two, and lives with her husband and kiddos in the inner city of the historic New England coast. She has a heart for the local church, slow seasonal rhythms, homemaking and hospitality.

Since my oldest was about 3, we have struggled with disregulation with our kids. One of my children has sensory processing challenges and another is highly sensitive. To say we’ve got big emotions in our home all day long is an understatement. Over the years I have found a few tools to have in my back pocket to help my children to regulate and calm down when emotions are high or the sillies just take over.

But before we talk about tools, I have found it super helpful to understand what’s happening in the body. I am no expert, but from my reading as a concerned mama, I have learned a lot about what causes disregulation and tantrums.

The nervous system has two components, the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system functions like a gas pedal in a car. It triggers the fight-or-flight response, providing the body with a burst of energy so that it can respond to perceived dangers. Enter: tantrums! When our kids feel a lack of safety or confusion, anger or any big emotions they often do not have the skills yet to be able to regulate those emotions and respond appropriately. It’s our job as parents to model and teach how to respond in healthy ways. Of course, we are not going to do this perfectly, but there are so many resources and tools out there right now that can help us help our children.

When I see my kids getting agitated or heading into fight or flight, my goal is to calm their nervous system down before trying to administer correction or training. The goal is to move my children from this fight or flight response to the parasympathetic nervous system, which is a rested and calm state. Their brains literally cannot hear or receive any kind of logical information at the moment! This is where calm down tools and techniques come in. Tools like deep breathing help the parasympathetic nervous system kick in and calm the body down. After all is calm, then we can talk about the issue at hand with our children, whether it was disobedience, foolishness, or just struggling with some emotion.

It cannot be understated that the best thing you can do to help a child with their own regulation is to work on your own. Healthy biblical community with prayer and confession helps, and sometimes counseling with a professional is needed. I have also found that coming up with my own calm down tools as a mom has been helpful. My calm down tools include deep breathing, opening up the parasympathetic state to help my nervous system relax and feel safe, counseling, essential oils, and time alone.

Here are some ideas that have helped the most with my kids:

Hand Breathing

I use animals that my kids love and one hand to coach them in a deep breathing exercise that calms their nervous system every time. For example, my daughter loves sea turtles, so I will walk her through breathing in and out as the turtle crawls up and down the “sand dune” (her fingers). Have your child hold their hand out in front of them with fingers spread a little apart. Then with the other hand have them draw up and down each finger from thumb to pinky, breathing in through their nose as they go up a finger, and breathing out through their mouth as they go down.

Now that we’ve done this as a habit, my kids can now do this on their own when they see their need to calm down.

Feelings Wheel

This wheel has been a great visual tool for my kids to be able to express their feelings through color and faces. Even before they were able to read, they could pin point how they were feeling and show me so we could talk about it. This has been so helpful! I even have noticed that just the act of looking for their feelings on the wheel calms them down because it slows them down and gets them out of their tantrum state.

I see the most benefit with this tool when I offer it to my child BEFORE the full blown meltdown occurs. I know you can probably tell when something is brewing in your child, and that’s when I will intervene with the wheel to ask how they are starting to feel. This helps them regulate and become calm before they lose it and aren’t able or willing to participate in any calm down strategies.

This wheel uses language that we’ve used in our family for a long time — green, yellow, blue and red. It’s an easy way for a child to be able to tell us quickly how they are feeling by using the colors, whether we have the wheel on hand or not.

Calm Down Cards

After my kids show me how they are feeling they get to choose 1-2 items from the calm down cards. I feel like each child is going to have their favorites, and that is definitely the case with my children. They tend to gravitate towards a drink of water, drawing, or simply getting a “mama hug.” Again, drinking water and drawing slow my kids down enough to get back into that parasympathetic state. Once this happens I make sure to follow up with them with any correction, discipline, love or support that they need for the given situation.

This builds connection and trust, which is what we all want with our children!

You can find Natasha on her website, Instagram, and YouTube page.

Today through May 29th, you can get the Feelings Wheel and Calm Down Cards FREE with any Treehouse Schoolhouse purchase. We hope you and your family love them!