As a therapist, I am frequently working with children who are emotionally dysregulated. This means, I see a lot of behavioral issues, difficulties containing behaviors, emotions, and reacting instead of responding to difficult situations.

My favorite example is when a parent makes a grilled cheese sandwich when the child really wanted turkey and the child throws a fit and ends up on the floor, crying, thrashing, and believing it is the worst day of their life. Yes, this is truly how they feel. They have little to no ability to cope with small (or big) stressors and instead they act out.

ADHD, Oppositional and Autistic children especially have a difficult time regulating their emotions and emotional responses (behaviors). In my experience, the following skills have been extremely beneficial and effective in helping a child reduce their dysregulation.

  1. Hot Chocolate Breathing. I went to a conference recently where the speaker, Tracy Turner-Bumberry LPC, RPT-S, CAS, explored with the audience a number of different skills aimed at emotional regulation. This particular skill really caught my attention. The purpose of this skill is aimed at regulating breathing patterns. Children, especially, have a difficult time regulating their breathing and often times, when upset, will breathe heavily and fast, causing them to get even more upset.

    Hot Chocolate breathing is when a child picks a picture of hot chocolate (print out a few) and focuses on inhaling (smelling the drink) and exhaling (blowing on the drink to cool it down). Practice this breathing for 5-10 breaths. Kids love it!

  2. “Take Me There” pictures. Another skill I learned from the (above listed) conference is what I have titled, “Take Me There” pictures. This skill is aimed at engaging the five senses and observing and describing (mindfulness) what is around you. Print out a few pictures of landscapes (make them all very different) and ask your child to ‘jump into the picture’ with you. Then, ask the child to describe to you what they taste, hear, see, smell, and feel. Have them use as much detail as possible.
  3. Grounding. This is my all time favorite skill. Grounding means to engage the five senses. I recommend making a ‘sensory kit’ that holds 2-3 objects representing each of the five senses. For instance, a picture of your dog, playdoh, essential oil, natural hard candy, and ear buds for music.
  4. Draw “My Feelings”. When your child is in the middle of a meltdown, chances are, they are unable to express their feelings effectively. Hand them an index card (the smaller the better) and a pen or maker, and ask them to “fill the page.” Try not to give too many details for this exercise. Allow them to take the lead and create whatever they want. Use this as a facilitator to have a conversation about what they are experiencing.
  5. Play-Doh Creations. The easiest, most accessible, and portable activity! Carry small size Play-Doh jars in your purse. Whenever you are witnessing a meltdown start, hand the child the Play-Doh and allow them to create whatever they’d like. Again, use this as a facilitator for conversation. Not only is this one great for allowing them to express themselves, but also couples as a sensory activity.

All of these tools, again, are aimed at reducing emotional dysregulation and strengthening their ability to cope with stressful situations. Have any skills you’d like to share? Leave a comment below!