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How to Help Your Child With Emotional Regulation

by | Sep 26, 2023 | 0 comments

The term “narcissism” on this blog is used to describe a specific set of personality traits. It is not intended to be used as a professional diagnosis.

Parenting can be a challenging journey, especially when you’re trying to co-parent with a narcissistic or toxic ex-partner.

And unfortunately, the children often get caught in the crossfire, which can lead to struggles such as low self-esteem, anxiety, and emotional dysregulation.

So in the journey of co-parenting with a difficult ex, one of the vital skills you can help your child develop is emotional regulation.

Emotional regulation empowers your child to manage their feelings effectively, promoting their mental and emotional well-being.

If you’re worried about your child’s emotional regulation, or you want to do everything you can to support your child, keep reading to learn more about emotional regulation.

Emotional Dysregulation in Children: What Is It?

Emotional dysregulation is a term used to describe difficulties in managing emotions.

In children, it manifests as an inability to modulate emotional responses appropriately, leading to intense emotional outbursts, mood swings, and struggles with calming down after becoming upset.

Recognizing emotional dysregulation is vital, especially in the context of co-parenting with narcissistic or toxic ex-partners. In these situations, children may already be exposed to heightened tension and stress.

And then emotional dysregulation can exacerbate these challenges and make it even harder for children to navigate their feelings.

If you’re not sure if your child is struggling with emotional dysregulation, here are some signs to look for:

  • Explosive Outbursts: Children with emotional dysregulation often display explosive anger or frustration. These outbursts can seem disproportionate to the situation, leaving parents puzzled and concerned.
  • Frequent Mood Swings: Your child might go from extreme joy to profound sadness or anger rapidly. These frequent and intense mood swings can be emotionally exhausting for both the child and the co-parents.
  • Difficulty Calming Down: After becoming upset, a dysregulated child may struggle to calm down. They may be unable to self-soothe, leading to prolonged distress.
  • Impulsivity: Emotional dysregulation can also manifest as impulsive behavior. Your child may act without thinking through the consequences, which can be concerning, especially in co-parenting situations where stability is crucial.

Along with knowing the signs of emotional dysregulation in children, it’s also important to know what the common triggers are:

  • Conflict Between Co-Parents: Tensions between co-parents can create an emotionally charged environment for the child.
  • Changes in Routine: Children often thrive on routines, and disruptions can trigger emotional dysregulation.
  • Lack of Emotional Support: In co-parenting situations with narcissistic or toxic exes, your child might lack the emotional support they need, further exacerbating their difficulties.

How to Calm a Dysregulated Child

When your child becomes emotionally dysregulated, it’s essential to know how to help them calm down.

Calming down a dysregulated child is different from calming down a child who is merely upset. These children are experiencing an intense burst of emotion that is often disproportional to the event that upset them.

Here are the ways you can help your child:

Stay Calm

Your child will look to you for cues on how to react to situations. If you stay calm, your child will feel safer and more secure.

Take a deep breath and try to maintain a composed demeanor, even when faced with a challenging emotional outburst from your child.

Active Listening

Listening is one of the most powerful tools you have in helping your child regulate their emotions – especially when their other parent likely doesn’t listen to them.

Give your child your full attention, make eye contact, and use empathetic statements like, “I understand you’re upset.” 

Encourage them to express their feelings without judgment and validate their emotions by telling them that it’s okay to feel what they are feeling.

Safe and Supportive Space

Establish a designated safe space where your child can retreat when they need to calm down.

This can be a cozy corner with comforting items like soft pillows or a favorite stuffie.

Encourage your child to use this space when they feel overwhelmed, and respect their need for solitude when they choose it.

When my daughter was struggling with big emotions, I created a little “tent” in her room with stuffies, pillows, and a weighted blanket.

It was a place where she could go and scream and cry and do whatever else she felt she needed to do to get her feelings out.

Distraction and Redirection

Sometimes, you might have to redirect your child’s attention to a different activity or topic to shift their focus away from what’s causing their emotional distress.

Be careful not to “reward” the outburst by offering a highly prized item or activity. You don’t want to teach your child that they can get something they like by becoming emotional.

Instead, engage in something they are interested in, like watching a show together, reading a book together, going for a walk, etc.

Be Patient

Trust me, I know how painful it is to watch a child lose emotional control. It can also be frustrating because you want to do anything you can to help the feelings stop.

But dealing with emotional dysregulation takes time and patience. 

Just because one way to deal with the dysregulation doesn’t work the first time doesn’t mean you should give up. Keep using these strategies, and eventually, something will work for your child.

How Do You Teach Children Emotional Regulation?

So we’ve talked about how to calm your child down when they are having an emotional outburst, but how can you teach your child emotional regulation to avoid them in the future?

Let’s take a look at some strategies and techniques you can use to teach your child how to regulate their emotions effectively:

Open Communication

Encourage your child to express their feelings openly and honestly. Create an atmosphere where they feel safe sharing their emotions without fear of judgment.

By validating their feelings and listening attentively, you show them that their emotions are valid and worthy of consideration.

Setting Boundaries

Boundaries provide a sense of structure and security for children. Clearly define acceptable behavior and consequences for crossing boundaries.

When your child understands the limits, they can better regulate their emotions within those boundaries. Consistency in enforcing these boundaries is crucial.

Encourage Self-Awareness

Help your child develop self-awareness by asking questions like, “How are you feeling right now?” or “What do you think caused you to feel this way?”

These questions promote introspection and help your child identify their emotions.

Encourage them to label their emotions, which is a fundamental step in emotional regulation.

Create Predictable Routines

Predictable routines provide a sense of stability and predictability for children. Knowing what to expect throughout the day can reduce anxiety and emotional volatility.

Stick to regular mealtimes, bedtimes, and other daily rituals to help your child feel secure.

Encourage Problem-Solving Skills

Teach your child problem-solving skills to address the sources of their emotional distress.

Discuss possible solutions to their problems, helping them understand that they have some control over their circumstances. Encourage them to brainstorm and evaluate potential solutions.

Seek Professional Support

If your child struggles significantly with emotional regulation, consider seeking the assistance of a child psychologist or therapist. These professionals can provide specialized guidance and interventions tailored to your child’s unique needs.

Take a Listen:

Empowering Your Child: Building Emotional Resilience Together

Co-parenting with a narcissistic or toxic ex-partner can be emotionally challenging, but helping your child with emotional regulation is a powerful way to support their well-being. 

If your child is dealing with big emotions, it can be hard to watch, and you may feel like nothing works – but you have to be patient and find the right strategy for your child.

And helping your child build emotional regulation skills will help to prevent outbursts in the future.

How do you help your child with emotional regulation? Leave a comment below and join the conversation!

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