Emotional dysregulation can sometimes be a symptom of mental health conditions, including PTSD. But you can learn how to help your child regain balance through difficult emotions.

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Emotional dysregulation in children may be a symptom of other conditions, but it’s not a mental health disorder on its own.

Children who exhibit emotional dysregulation may have other emotional or developmental disorders that contribute to this symptom, but not all do.

It can be common among children who have:

If your child’s emotions seem “bigger” or out of proportion to certain situations, they may have trouble controlling their emotions.

Emotional dysregulation can feel overwhelming for kids and caregivers alike. But there are ways to learn how to help a child gain their emotional balance again.

Emotional dysregulation is an inability to cope with or moderate one’s emotions, specifically the intensity and quality of those emotions.

According to 2021 research, there may be a strong link between childhood trauma and emotional dysregulation. Emotional dysregulation can be a consequence of trauma, including:

Signs of emotional dysregulation in children

Common signs of emotional dysregulation in kids include:

  • irritability
  • aggression
  • frequent and lengthy tantrums
  • emotional responses that seem disproportionate to the situation at hand
  • mood instability

Emotional dysregulation can feel intense or alarming in the moment. However, learning to manage “big feelings” is possible for both children and parents.

Here are some strategies and tips to consider for helping a child experiencing emotional dysregulation.

Identify and treat the effects of trauma

According to some 2021 research, childhood trauma may be responsible for nearly half of all childhood-onset psychiatric disorders, including:

  • physical and emotional abuse
  • sexual abuse
  • physical and emotional neglect

Children who’ve experienced traumatic events may also be less responsive to certain psychiatric treatments.

It’s important to advocate for your child if they have experienced trauma as a part of their background. This includes making sure that it’s accurately diagnosed and listed as a factor for any other diagnoses your child receives.

Researchers believe that advocacy alone may create a “quantum step forward” in helping children who’ve experienced trauma receive the right treatment.

Practice mindfulness and breath-centered yoga

According to a 2021 study, a breath-centered meditation practice may help children with emotional dysregulation difficulties stemming from ADHD and reactive aggressive disorder calm themselves and focus their attention.

Parents of kids who participated in this research reported that practicing breath awareness positively impacted their attention spans and social skills.

Another 2022 study suggested that a yoga practice may be valuable in helping children with ADHD who have trouble with impulse control.

Incorporating mindfulness in the form of meditation or yoga with a focus on breath control may help your child regulate their emotions, particularly in a school setting.

Prioritize restful sleep

Children with emotional dysregulation difficulties may experience more challenges if they also have trouble sleeping, according to 2021 research.

Modeling healthy sleep habits and practicing sleep hygiene together by working on a bedtime routine may help your child regain some balance with emotional dysregulation.

Consider adopting a dog, if possible

Some 2021 research suggested that caring for a dog — and in particular, helping and engaging in dog training — may help alleviate symptoms of emotional dysregulation in older children with PTSD.

Adolescent participants in the dog-training program reported improved attention, as well as reduced:

If your child is older and ready to help out, and you think adopting a dog could be right for your family, consider finding a shelter or rescue center near you. You and your child can look for a dog that they can help care for.

Enroll in a parenting class

Parenting programs often focus on teaching parents skills for developing sensitivity to their child’s needs and acceptance of their emotions.

Practicing greater empathy towards your kids may help improve the home environment, which may be contributing to your child’s emotional dysregulation.

Try probiotics

If emotional dysregulation in your child could be related to ADHD, consider trying probiotic supplements for kids or feeding them a probiotic-rich diet.

A 2022 study presented some evidence that probiotics used with behavioral therapy and other therapeutic interventions may help improve function in the areas of the brain that control focus and impulses associated with ADHD.

Find a child therapist

Kids sometimes need help from a therapist to understand their emotions and work through those feelings.

Therapy can also be helpful for potentially diagnosing any underlying mental health conditions that may be at the root of emotional dysregulation.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may be effective in helping emotional dysregulation, especially for children with:

With CBT, a therapist gently works with your child to understand their thoughts, feelings, and actions, as well as teaching them effective ways to respond.

CBT may also reduce the need for ADHD medication in some kids.

Look into ADHD medication

Addressing emotional dysregulation usually involves treating underlying causes, such as ADHD.

If your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, certain medications may be helpful in managing ADHD symptoms that could be contributing to emotional dysregulation.

Medication for ADHD can only be prescribed by a doctor or psychiatrist. It’s important to work with your child’s pediatrician and therapist in finding the best treatment for their ADHD symptoms, as well as sticking to medication guidelines.

Dysregulation can be very disruptive to a child’s life. However, there are ways to learn how to help a child with emotional dysregulation.

It’s important to remember that emotional dysregulation is not in and of itself a diagnosable disorder, but rather a symptom.

Emotional dysregulation can be a symptom of a mental health disorder, such as:

  • ADHD
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • PTSD

A visit to the pediatrician or a therapist to find possible underlying causes is often the best first step in addressing emotional dysregulation in kids.

Advocating for and acknowledging any trauma that may be in your child’s history is another key step in the accurate diagnosis of any underlying conditions.

Strategies for helping your child cope with emotional dysregulation include:

  • psychotherapy, especially CBT
  • identifying and addressing any trauma your child may have experienced
  • practicing healthy sleep habits
  • mindfulness practices focusing on breathwork, such as yoga and meditation
  • adopting a dog and engaging in dog training
  • probiotics or dietary changes
  • taking a parenting class focusing on empathy and sensitivity to your child’s experience
  • medication for certain conditions, like ADHD

Teamwork can be crucial to helping a child with emotional dysregulation. Often, this might involve parents and caregivers working together with their child’s teachers, therapists, and pediatrician.

Help is out there, and available for your child and for you. If you’re ready to seek mental health support but don’t know where to begin, check out Psych Central’s guide to finding a therapist.