EPIC Blog: Helping Kids Self-Regulate - 4KIDS
$30 $100 $250 Other

EPIC Blog: Helping Kids Self-Regulate

March 17th, 2021 l Author: Mariana Caro, LCSW & Dr. Jennie Trocchio, Ph. D

Does your child get overwhelmed when he or she is in a place with loud sounds and bright lights? Does your child have a really hard time focusing? What about managing and regulating his or her own emotions? Lastly, does your child fall apart for what you think might be, “no reason at all?”

Although there might be various reasons for these types of behaviors, it’s worth considering that the root of these concerns might be sensory-related. Some children struggle with sensory processing issues which can lead to behaviors that are often labeled as “willful”, “malicious”, or “manipulative.” Here are some examples of those behaviors: having a meltdown at the store; crying and then calming down when given a snack or water; losing control and becoming violent; breaking things; picky eating; difficulty sitting and staying still; not responding when their names are called; appearing to be ignoring you; etc.

The Child Mind Institute defines sensory processing issues as, “difficulty integrating information from the senses, which may overwhelm children and result in confusing behavior.” Though these are now widely accepted as a symptom of autism, there are many children who face challenges in this area that are not on the spectrum, and otherwise have no other diagnoses.

Whether this was hard-wired from birth or developed as a result of trauma, your child may struggle to self-regulate as a result of a sensory issue.

According to autism expert and friend of 4KIDS, Dr. Jennie Trocchio, Ph. D., Self-regulation is the foundation of all learning and development. “It means to be calm and alert in body and mind, when your child is able to focus and attend to the world around them in the midst of stress,” she explains.

Self-regulation must be taught; it is a learned skill that is developed through the parent-child relationship. Children are not born knowing how to calm and soothe their own bodies. Every child needs an adult to show him or her how to do it. The foundation for self-regulation is built in the first three years of life, when a child is most vulnerable. Self-regulation is relationship dependent. What this means is that we cannot expect a child to be able to control themselves without us as caregivers being able to model for them what that looks like.

Because of this, it’s important for us to take a good look at our own ways of coping with stress or difficult situations. When our senses are overloaded, how do we act? When we are at the point of breaking down, how do we respond? Do we know how to regulate our own bodies? Remember – we must first be able to regulate and calm our own bodies before expecting a child to regulate themselves, as they are designed to match our level of regulation.

So how can you, as a parent or caregiver, support self-regulation with your child?

1. As we have already mentioned, notice and manage your own regulation.
2. Practice co-regulation, which Dr. Jennie describes as, “when their storm meets our calm.” In the middle of a scary situation for your child, get on their level, acknowledge how they may be feeling and assure them that you will get through this together.
3. Use therapeutic tools like weighted blankets or chew necklaces to support, both proactively before a crisis and then also afterwards to help them calm down. These tools should not to replace your relationship however. Remember, YOU are the most effective tool for showing your child how to regulate themselves.
4. Offer your child calming choices when you see them beginning to unravel, and help your child reach a calm and alert state before expecting more from them.

Galatians 6:2 – “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

The above ideas are simply starting points in the conversation of regulation. There are a ton of great resources out there on this topic, and we highly encourage you to join one of our free, online, monthly EPIC Trainings to learn more about helping your child regulate!

Note: If you suspect that your child has a more serious, underlying issue that is making it hard for them to self-regulate (or has been diagnosed with a sensory processing disorder) consult with the EPIC Team and they will help direct you to the best treatment.