When Sophia is sad, she closes in on herself; she is unable to communicate with the world around her; occasionally she cries, and it takes a long time for her to be willing to let go of her sadness, sometimes even a whole day.
When Jacob gets angry, it happens in seconds, abruptly; following something someone said, or even a look he didn’t like, which he interprets as hostile; he suddenly turns red, and in a matter of seconds he is completely furious. People who know him say that Jacob is like a sports car, accelerating from 0 to 100 at record speed.
When Alex is afraid, he experiences rapid heartbeats, cold sweat, and he says that at that moment all he feels and all he is is fear. If we’d ask Alex to rate is fear on scale of 1-100 he would say 100,000.
Duration, speed, intensity – these are just some of the ways in which difficulty with emotional regulation may express itself. A difficulty with emotional regulation will also be reflected by an ’emotional tone’, that is, one emotion that takes over and characterizes a certain mood or state of mind.
A difficulty with emotional regulation often characterizes children with ADHD, but not only them. As a matter of fact, most difficulties stem from unregulated emotions.
It is virtually impossible to get to the root of the cause of an unregulated difficulty. Is this difficulty stemming from internal or external elements? Innate or environmental? Organic? Acquired? Apparently all of the above is true. Emotional regulation is comprised of the child’s internal processes, the child’s inherent temperament, and external processes related to their environment.
Marsha M. Linehan refers to emotional dysregulation as an extensive problem that stems from the combination of a non-regulated biological tendency together with non-validating parents and other figures. According to Linehan, some children are born with a tendency for emotional dysregulation. These children react quickly and intensely to emotional situations and find it difficult to calm down and regain their emotional state as they were before the event. A child experiencing difficulties with emotional regulation will often have a difficulty regulating their behavioral reactions following the intense emotions; their behavioral reaction will be just as unregulated as their emotions – this child will appear behaving uncontrollably.
Like Linehan, many researchers and theorists who deal with emotional regulation assume that the encounter between the characteristics with which a baby is born (their character, their genetics, their temperament, and perhaps the course of pregnancy and birth) and the environment into which they are born – their initial relationship with their parents, the way their parents interpret their look, their crying, their smiles, the extent to which parents succeed in validating and understanding the infant’s emotions, the behaviors that the parents choose, consciously or unconsciously, to strengthen or eradicate, as well as the model the parents present to the infant, will all significantly influence the child’s ability to regulate their emotions; and to complicate things even more, it is not only the characteristics with which the child is born that affect his emotional regulation, and the environment that intensifies or diminishes their innate abilities, but also the specific encounter between parent and child that affects the child’s capability of emotional regulation.
Many years ago a friend of mine shared her dilemmas with me regarding her emotionally unregulated daughter. I knew her daughter, she was my daughter’s age. A cheerful and energetic girl, characterized by high emotional intensity, and diagnosed with hyperactive attention deficit disorder. My friend, a calm and gentle woman, did not quite know how to deal with her loud daughter. While she loved her daughter, she referred to her as ‘my kooky girl’ and told funny stories about her unbalanced daughter’s mischiefs. Sometimes she would desperately ask for advice. As far as she was concerned, her daughter’s behavior demonstrated a blatant imbalance.
Such a child, had she been my child, would have been perceived completely differently. I would have experienced her loudness as a natural and reasonable reaction, I would certainly not think of this as some sort of imbalance. An encounter between a parent and child with similar characteristics has a high potential to be volatile, but it also provides a basis for an understanding of the difficulty, and thus also validating it, which will not necessarily happen when the parent is so much different than their child.
As parents, we often find it difficult to help our children regulate their emotions: whether because we ourselves do not always know how to regulate our own emotions, and we find it difficult to act as a calm and balanced model in times of crisis, or because we find it difficult to accept the intensity of their unregulated behavior and we get carried away into the incident instead of reacting in a distinctly calm manner, and sometimes we feel the need to defend and protect our child facing their intense emotional reaction. It is interesting to examine and notice that different emotions cause us, as parents, to have different reactions. It is quite evident that when our child’s unregulated behavior is expressed by anger, we find it difficult to cope with, especially when Javier Baez jersey wholesale the anger is directed towards us. But when dealing with fear or sadness, we find ourselves less in power struggles, and we’ll more likely protect or defend our child, but this is not always the right thing to do.
So what should you do?
The first step to take is increase your awareness; of yourselves and your children. You can change only what you know and are familiar with. Therefore, it is important to set the judgment aside, since your child will find it difficult to take responsibility for the intensity of their response when they hear your reprimanding tone. Your child needs to get the message that you are going to examine and get to know their reaction together: “Let’s find out when dose this happen to you, when exactly do you get upset/sad/scared. Only after you know exactly when and how this happens, you’ll be able to come up together with methods to overcome these unpleasant emotions.
Examine feelings, thoughts, sensations and emotions: ask what events led to the unregulated response. Try to examine over time – are there any recurring situations that cause this reaction? For example, anxiety that is experienced at bedtime or in a certain room, certain people who provoke these intense emotions? (For example, a child with whom every interaction provokes anger) examine the incident and ask – what happened a little earlier? And before that? What were you thinking of? What was the sensation in your body? When did you know it was going to be hard?
A thorough understanding of the elements that led to an emotional outburst can help with emotional regulation. Gross calls this stage the stage of choice, where you can still choose and prevent an unregulated reaction by stepping into a situation that may trigger an emotional reaction or avoiding a situation that may trigger an unwanted emotional reaction. Of course, you should make sure that the chosen reaction does not encourage avoidance.
In addition to developing awareness, it is necessary to help the child describe what they feel and experience. Help them name the emotion…
This can be done in several ways:
- Depending on the age of the child and their cognitive abilities – examine what emotions they know. You may use a list of emotions and test whether they are able to match facial expressions and corresponding emotions.
- Try to map and sort pleasant and unpleasant emotions and their various intensities.
- Associate events with emotions – at first with someone else (yourself, for example): “When I’m shouted at, I get angry, and sometimes I feel insulted”. Then, let the child try: “How do you feel when someone shouts at you?”, “How did you feel when your brother quarreled with you?”
Let’s not forget about sensations. The child’s psychological reactions should also be considered when attempting to understand emotional reactions. When a child knows that when they are hungry they become edgy, or that when they feel sad their body feels tired, they can have more control over situations and prevent them from developing.
The ability to recognize emotions and know how they feel in our body is part of the regulation process.
Another element that should be addressed is the outcome of the child’s emotional reactions and the ‘price’ they pay for their reactions:
- Did the last fit/episode take a long time that may have been used for a pleasant activity?
- Do they feel guilty or ashamed of their behavior after they calm down?
- How does their behavior make others feel? Are they afraid of them or angry at them?
- Are they aware of others’ reaction to their behavior?
These questions, when asked in a non-critical tone, can help your child understand that they are the ones who pay the price, and get them to agree to cooperate and examine other reactions.
Behavior is often an attempt to manage emotions: when a person experiences an emotion of high intensity they often try to “get rid” of it in order to feel better, and they do so by using ineffective behavioral reactions such as fighting, shouting and so on.
It is important to teach the child that a reaction that comes out of high-intensity emotion may be effective in the short-term, but ineffective in the long run. Meaning that a child who shouts at his friend after being refused a toy may make them feel “stronger” at that moment, but they may lose friends in the long run.
It is important to teach the child to contain and regulate their emotion and not to act under its influence; to think about the outcome of that emotion in the long run, and not only the short term. In fact, this is an important message that we as parents must learn as well – contain, regulate and not act out of our emotions.
And of course, you should think of other ways in which emotions could be expressed, examine the situation together with your child for next time. How can the negative outcomes be avoided? What other effective cheap nfl jerseys China outcomes may they achieve? You can brainstorm with your child and come up with different possible reactions and then examine and choose the right one.
Eventually, altering the outcome of emotional reactions is in your and your child’s hands. Your support and ability to understand that each child is born with a different temperament which contributes to the way you feel and react to that child; understanding that whatever is effective and works for one child won’t necessarily work for another; and mainly understand that behavior is your child’s expressive language and sometimes this language comes out too strong, too loud and in a way that is inappropriate to the situation, because the emotion that your child experiences is unregulated. Our role as parents is to help our children know their emotions and manage them according to their goals.