Achieving better emotional regulation is a goal for all people (adults and kids). We have to work at this everyday. The basics of emotional regulation start very young in childhood. Emotional regulation should be something that’s woven into daily life… woven into the fabric of home and classroom. Controlling strong emotions and knowing where best to express emotions should be practiced throughout daily routines and lessons and organized sports.
What does this entail? What’s the best way to help promote emotional regulation in kids?
Children (and adults) must have moments to pause when overstimulated and when they show signs of high emotion. They need moments to breathe, opportunities to move and shift one’s view, and always given a few minutes to digest newly learned things. It’s important that the brain have brief spaces of time (I call these “mind breaks”) before going onto the next thing. Avoid multi-tasking. It doesn’t foster emotional regulation. It does the opposite. Juggling taxes the mind. Have you noticed you’re most likely to snap at people, lose your temper, get more easily frustrated when you’re trying to do too much at once?
Finally, if you want kids to have better emotional regulation, let them move about. Especially for boys, using their hands and touching objects while exploring the physical space around them plays to their neurological strengths (visual-motor systems and higher activity needs). Boys (and many men) are more likely to learn and be engaged in tasks not by sitting in front of screens or behind desks, but also by doing things and moving about. The prolonged sitting we ask kids (and many adults) to do isn’t helping them learn or do a task better, as much as it’s a way for teachers and bosses to try to squeeze out work more efficiently. But if you want creativity, intelligent problem-solving, better motivation in tasks… don’t keep kids and adults stuck in chairs or one spot too long.
Until we make changes, we will continue to see more and more kids (mostly boys) diagnosed and labeled with emotional disregulation – and along with that – more unnecessary diagnoses of ADHD. Those are labels. Those assign the problem to the child. That’s easier than admitting we may need to change the environment – and acknowledge what we have set up isn’t working.