Regulation of Emotions In Children – Part Two

Back in the fall of 2015, I  went to a course for my physical therapy licensure renewal  that focused on the regulation of emotions in children who have anxiety, anger challenges, ADD/ADHD, or who are on the autism spectrum.  It was geared toward teachers, therapy providers, and principals in the school setting.  One thing that was emphasized over and over is that a calm child who is not feeling stressed by the environment can learn better than a child who is stressed. Part of education is to understand ourselves as teachers and therapists (why do we do what we do in the classroom or with the children we are with?), to empower children to understand who they are and why they do what they do,  and to help children develop emotional regulation.

I talked about the first part of this course in this  back post about the things some schools in the United States are doing to try to keep things calm for their students, including:

  • Understanding the brain
  • Ryhthm, including the use of photo books to show the child doing each daily activity and using accommodations to make certain children do not get over-stimulated
  • Using connection and love to calm the child
  • Use of movement, art, hydration, music, art, time in nature to all help increase learning and memory and keep children as even-keeled as possible.

The question I posed at the end of Part One of this post (linked above)  was what are the schools doing in the moment, when things are going really badly?  Children with these kinds of challenges can throw desks, they can really fall apart, and it can be difficult for not only the student, but the teacher and the other students in the class when all of this is happening.

The approach in some schools and as modeled in this course I attended is a three step process involving  to  take notice, to intervene, and to plan ahead.   I don’t know if this would appeal to parents in the home environment or not, but I place it here as food for thought and for you to decide how it fits into your philosophy of education and development.  This course was absolutely NOT geared toward Waldorf Schools, and again, I place it here for thought.

Notice – in this course, this meant to empower children to understand emotional states and triggers.  For small children under the age of  9  I am a fan of using stories, music, little circle time activities, modeling, sharing good things in circle time, etc.  I think this can be empowering in the feeling life for the purpose of “noticing”.    For older children, discussion as they need to start to learn to function in the real world may be necessary.  Children with challenges may need very well to start these “noticing” strategies before the nine year change in development, and I think what this entails  is really  up to the family and the health care/educational team.   Remember this course was geared toward those working with children who had challenges with anxiety and anger, which is different.  Some children especially  need real help in  noticing other people’s behaviors, body language, tone of voice, etc.  and again, I think we have to look at the child in front of us whilst keeping in mind development.

Intervention:  This may include  a proactive phase. For example,  what are the child’s triggers?  What is the environment doing (or not doing) for the child?  How do we prepare the child? For example, some children need serious help with groups. Some need serious help with transitions.  How do we anticipate the problems that might come up? In a school setting, this might require a team conference involving almost all staff present.

The early intervention phase might include redirection, and moving into proximity to the child to help, and to use calming strategies.  If a child is past early intevention and is melting down, then steps might include removing the child to a safe environment, not engaging in a power struggle, distracting, offering a safe activity, allowing time to calm down, and then addressing the situation but more in an informational gathering way, not in a way that immediately goes into the negative behavior of the child for that setting.

Note to families reading:   Remember, these are grades aged children. From a Waldorf persepctive for tiny children under the age of 7, I wrote a post about time in for tinies that might give you some ideas about how to create a “meltdown plan” for your littles.

Plan:  The plan part of this is to know that this behavior is cyclical (most likely).  Most likely it WILL happen again.   A plan is helping to empower the child (and I have to say I think this is much more appropriate for older children than younger from a Waldorf perspective) and using a classroom behavior plan.  Role-playing, drawing the scenario and how it would be a happier ending for all parties can sometimes help, and for older children, journaling can be helpful.

Practice: There are many other very cognitive-based approaches that were mentioned that I think could be useful for middle school and up for the normal course of health class or whatnot ( to me personally.  I am sure in some school settings these techniques are being used with much younger children and especially for those who desperately need these tools to try to self-regulate).  These include things such as introducing the parts of the brain and functionality (which in one sense I am for in that children should learn correct parts of their body just like other bodily names but this is applying the names and functionality in a pretty cognitive way that might be better for interested middle schoolers); introducing a “circle of control” (ie, what is in the child’s control and what is not in the child’s control), scales of emotional intensity, scales of importance of events and comparing to the emotional scales.  Other things mentioned were breathing techniques, (which could be used younger than middle school ages obviously )   and using post-incident interviewing techniques.

Here are some ideas for searching techniques that could be helpful for your child (I am not endorsing any of these per se except ones we have used personally); these are just repeatedly mentioned in courses I have taken:

  • Brain Gym (which we do use, I have taken a course in it, and I would endorse)
  • Heart Math
  • Ready Bodies, Learning Minds
  • Play Attention (this might be computer based, I am not sure?  Has anyone out there used it?).
  • Under the Thinking Cap, which is the company of the person who presented this course
  • MindUP Curriculum (has three levels – grades K-2; grades 3-5 and grades 6-8) (I am currently looking at the level for grades 6-8 and hope to have something to review about it soon!)

Are there any products, programs, or techniques you have found for emotional regulation that you have loved?  Have you found a better age to introduce some of these things than other ages?  What did you find worked best for your child?  What about those of you with children who do struggle with anger, anxiety, or other challenges?  Did starting earlier help?

I would love to hear from you.











3 thoughts on “Regulation of Emotions In Children – Part Two

  1. My 10-year-old daughter has ADHD and anxiety, as well as some other related issues (sensory issues, oppositional defiance, OCD tendencies, etc). Her therapist helped us to create a crisis plan with phases similar to those you described above. My daughter was involved in making this and was able to give insight into how she feels during each of the phases and what she thinks will best help her.

    She has a really difficult time with transitions, plans changing, and being given “no” answers, so yes as part of the proactive phase we try to put thought into how we handle these scenarios. I don’t always remember to do this. Sometimes it is not possible or our efforts backfire, but we do try and prepare for the possibility of more than one scenario occurring. Just today we showed up for a therapy appointment. She was really looking forward to it and was so excited to wear her new horse-riding boots and cowgirl hat to show her therapist and had made a special gift for her therapist. Then we got there and found out the appointment was actually next week. She just about lost it completely, but I was able to distract her with the idea of visiting the pet store. Hugs and verbal expressions of empathy helped as well. But sometimes nothing helps and we just have to ride out the meltdown.

    Another huge, huge, huge trigger for her is lack of sleep. Everything is 50 times worse when she is tired.

    Some of the things you have mentioned for middle-schoolers, we have done. One of the first things she did in therapy starting at age 8.5 was an “anger thermometer” (scale of emotional intensity). She made it, colored, and labeled it with her counselor’s help. This little tool was extremely helpful. We had it on the wall, and at various points throughout the day I would ask her where she was on the thermometer. It helped her be aware of her emotions before they got control of her. I was able to head off some tantrums by asking her this as soon as I could tell she was getting upset. She was able to recognize the emotion and deal with it right then. Breathing techniques have helped, meditation (though not useful in the moment of rage, it can help at other times). We have also talked about the “thinking brain” and the “feeling brain” and how sometimes the feeling brain takes over and we have to remind the thinking brain to be in charge. Or how she has a “race car brain” with “bicycle brakes”.

    My feeling is that it is better to risk doing something too cognitive too early than to live with the utter chaos and state of constant crisis that these conditions bring to the child and the entire family. I can’t imagine waiting until middle school unless there was some other option that was proven to work.

    • Absolutely, Lisa. I think for children not dealing with anger, anxiety, etc this may not be needed but certainly for children facing these challenges or for those at risk for these challenges, it may very well be these cognitive tools are a lifesaver. In the course of a regular health class or whatnot, it may be that sixth grade is a fine time to introduce this. Thank you so very much for your generosity in sharing! No one knows this path better than the families living it. Hugs and lots and lots of love,Carrie

  2. Thank you so much, Carrie. I’m in midst of reading and digesting every related back post… Many, many tabs open on my computer and much food for thought. Also, coincidentally, I just started reading “Soul Discipline”. From the bottom of my heart, thanks for all you do.

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