Emotion Regulation Skills Part 2: Children and Adolescents
When we experience emotional dysregulation, as outlined as a problem to decrease according to dialectical behavior therapy, we have a difficult time in managing fast, intense mood changes and often experience the feeling of being out of control. For children and adolescents, anger, shame, sadness, and anxiousness often can become so intense that they become difficult to control, which can lead to problematic behaviors and ineffective coping solutions.
The goals of learning how to better regulate our emotions and to teach our children these skills is so that they can understand the emotions that are being experienced, reduce their emotional vulnerability to intense emotions, and decrease the frequency of emotions that overwhelm them.
Below are a variety of emotion regulation skills that can be used as a preventative strategy to promote healthy emotional stability and management. Please note that these skills will not be helpful if you or your child is already emotionally activated and is actively experiencing an intense emotion- meaning it is difficult to talk with them, reason with them, and they are struggling with impulse control and problematic behaviors (such as hitting, screaming, yelling, biting, throwing things, rudeness, harsh tone of voice, etc.).
A different set of skills, known as distress tolerance skills, and parenting approaches to de-escalate the emotion will be necessary (this will be covered in a future blog post).
Emotion Regulation Skills for you and your Child/Adolescent to Practice Together:
- Identifying emotions- Your therapist can help your child start to name their emotions and understand the function of their emotion that they are feeling- what is it trying to communicate to them? To others? It is important that your child be aware of how they are feeling, the behavioral urges that come with that feeling, the physiological responses that they experience in their body and the needs that are important to them. By providing them with words to express themselves, this empowers them to better communicate their needs and to experience feeling understood and heard for an emotional experience that is important to them.
- Understanding the function of emotions- It is important for your child to understand that emotions have a purpose and that each emotion is necessary. Emotions provide us with information about what is happening in our environment, and a gut feeling. Emotions communicate to and influence others and how they interact with us. Our facial expressions, behaviors and attitudes influence how others respond to us and often this can influence whether or not we get our needs met.
Vulnerability factors– It is important for children and adolescents to understand that there are vulnerability factors that influence how intensely we might experience an emotion. These vulnerability factors include physical illness, our nutrition and eating habits, substance use, the amount of sleep we get each night and the level of physical exercise that we engage in.
- Engaging in activities that we actually enjoy– Yes, do more of what you love, have positive experiences, and this will lead to positive emotional states in the short term! By engaging in at least one activity that your child enjoys or wants to do, this can lead to feelings of hope, satisfaction, contentment, excitement and gratitude. As a parent, engaging with your child in a pleasant activity can also promote positive attachment and feelings of connection.
- Creating goals can lead to a life worth living– it is important for children and teens to be able to identify a long-term goal that they have for themselves- such as learning to play guitar- and understand the steps that can lead to success in achieving that goal. By reducing avoidant behaviors, feelings of accomplishment and confidence can grow and feelings of shame and disappointment can decrease.
- Opposite Action- It is important for your adolescent to understand that while they are experiencing an emotion that is valid (they are allowed to feel angry, hurt, sad, tired, disappointed, etc.), they have the ability to determine if acting on their emotion urge (to scream, slam doors, stay in bed all day, give the cold shoulder) might actually cause more harm than good. With this skill, a child or adolescent can determine that while they are feeling a certain way, they can actively decide to act the opposite way to how they have in the past if they believe this could help them.
We will explore these skills more in depth in future blog posts. Remember that these skills take time to learn and to practice, but can be beneficial for both children/teens and adults.
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