Supporting Young People to Improve Emotional Regulation Skills
Angelique Foran, Psychologist, Cumberland Park SA
15 November 2017

Everyone experiences positive and negative emotions, they are a normal part of our everyday lives.

At times our emotions can feel overwhelming, almost like we are on a rollercoaster. Most of us will use emotion regulation strategies without thinking to cope with difficult situations many times throughout each day. Emotional dysregulation is a term used to describe a person’s inability to use healthy strategies to diffuse negative feelings.

Anyone who has children, particularly teenagers, know they can dysregulate fairly often. You will be able to observe their high-pitched voice, lots of words, the whining or screaming happens and sometimes, before you know it, you can join them in dysregulating by using lots of words, and becoming louder. This doesn’t help to resolve the situation. Examples of emotional dysregulation are out of control anger responses, self-harm in adolescence (cutting), and anxious reactions such as panic attacks.
‘Life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we react to it’. Charles Swindoll

Now I know for most parents that when a young person or even adult is dysregulating, we know not to join them but it’s actually not that easy. Most children’s emotional regulation strategies are modelled on their parent’s reactions.

How do we help young people who are dysregulating?

  1. Do Not Join Them – Dysregulation can be contagious, monitor your own volume, tone, language, body proximity,  body language
  2. Model emotional literacy – name feelings, describe how you feel.  It is really hard to manage an emotion when we can’t name it!  Psychologists do spend time teaching emotional literacy and have many resources to help young people improve this skill.
  3. Learning to regulate strong emotional reactions is a marathon not a sprint – It takes time to master skills, expect good and bad days. This will be an evolving journey , from childhood to adolescence expect many- changes in emotions and especially a  new intensity in the experiencing of  emotions during adolescence.

When working with a psychologist to manage emotional regulation, children and young people become aware of physical reactions that indicate increased emotional reactivity and are taught strategies to manage these physical symptoms. The ability to monitor self-talk in their head is an important skill that takes a lot of practice. Being able to manage behavioural reactions is the final step which demonstrates an increase in self-control.

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