Manage Overly Emotional Child

An overly emotional child is easily distracted and overwhelmed by a situation that he/she feels hardship in dealing. It's worth recognizing right at the beginning that this isn't an easy time.

My name is Karen Gross. And I'm here to give you some suggestions for how to deal with young people who are dysregulated and acting out and having temper tantrums and I hope these ideas will help you help your children during this pandemic and when school reopens. Also, it's worth recognizing right at the beginning that this isn't an easy time.

This is a very hard time for adults and for children, and so one of the things that we can do is find strategies to help students so that they can better regulate their behavior because dysregulation is part of what happens when your world changes dramatically, when the people around you are changing or sad or upset, or when you don't have school or see your friends or see your grandparents.

So what I have is a set of suggestions, four of them, that I'll explain in some detail. They actually all start with the letter D, so all you have to remember are the D words. And then at the end, I'll give you some ideas of things not to do because they'll actually make matters worse.

And I hope all of these will help you help your children. So let's start with the first suggestion, which is dialogue. We're tempted, when kids are acting out and misbehaving and yelling and screaming, not to engage with them.

But actually what we should do is engage with them and have conversations, even if it isn't reciprocal in the beginning and even if they're not yet deeply developed in their language.

But you can say things like, "Oh. You seem really upset. I'm sorry. What can I do to help you?" Or, "You seem really sad," or, "You seem really angry. Is there anything I can do to make things better for you?" And just offering and talking and recognizing that the way to deal with problems, most effectively, is actually by talking through them is really a role modeling for kids.

And it may not work every time, but it sets an example for recognizing that what the child is experiencing is something that's bothering them, something that's making them act out. It's something that happened to them.

It's not like they intended to act badly and wanted to make the lives of parents and guardians and caregivers miserable. No. Something happened and they feel bad and they're acting out. So dialogue is the first suggestion.

The second suggestion is what I call diversion and diversion can take many forms. It can take taking the child outside to play on a swing or for a walk or for a drive in a car. Or, it can be something as simple as an activity that moves the child's brain from dysregulation to being more regulated by funneling their anger or their concerns.

So here's an example. I brought my props with me. If you bring kids into the kitchen and have them bang pots and pans, it's really noisy but it creates an opportunity for them to do something with their hands, using their senses, hearing, that will help them feel less bothered by whatever it is that's bothering them.

The third thing that one can do among the D words is drawn. So I have my drawing pods here, and you can draw, you can rip paper, you can color in. You can also do another D-word, which is put on music and dance. And what these do is they, in essence, serve to distract the child from its dysregulated state into doing something else.

And in that transition, they can move from the tantrum into something else. And whether it's drawing or coloring or dancing, it will work to open new pathways instead of the child being stuck in the tantrum state.

And the fourth suggestion has to do with dazzling and delighting children. This is one where if a child is screaming or yelling or acting out, and the adult does something funny like makes a funny face, makes a funny sound, makes a funny movement, you can actually often get a child to respond to that by suddenly having a little break in that tantrum, to look at what the adult is doing.

And it's the adult's way of saying, "I'm here for you. I can help you." So if you just... Or some odd smile or something, or some offhand movements that are funny and make someone smile and you do those, if you jump up and down on one foot, if you wriggle your nose and wiggle your fingers and do things like that, kids actually can smile and laugh.

Regulating the Overly Emotional Child

So we have the four D words that will help dysregulated children become more regulated. Dialogue, diversion, drawing, and dance, and delighting, and dazzling with something silly. Now, here are a couple of things not to do, as tempting as they might be. First, now isn't the time for punishment and the reason is that you punish when someone intends to do something badly.

In the case of a tantrum or dysregulation, the child isn't trying to be bad so punishment isn't the right answer. And neither is isolating the child, putting them in a room, sitting them in a chair, saying, "You can't get out." Even locking them in a room, which some people do. Those are not good ideas because the outcome is the opposite of what we want.

We want to connect and create reciprocity with children and if you isolate them and separate them and make that the norm, then that's not effective in terms of helping them come to terms with what they're feeling. In fact, in many situations, it will actually make things worse.

And the final, "Don't do," is yelling and screaming and trying to out-shout a child who's dysregulated. If anything, what you want to do is speak softly and you want to speak so softly that the child actually has to calm down to hear what you're saying to them. Now, this is not easy in the midst of a child getting all revved up, it's really easy for the adult to get revved up, too.

But the goal here is to role model, showcase, how one can regulate one's emotions. How one actually can help by calming down, taking things a little easier, and recognizing that this is not something for which there's punishment. This is something that happens when you're upset and you have to find new pathways for dealing with being upset.

So, in conclusion, I hope these suggestions with the four D words, dialogue, diversion, draw, dance, and dazzle and delight, help you help your child become more regulated. And remember, these are not easy times. These are really difficult times for adults and children. I hope this has been helpful to you.

I hope that as time moves forward, we will be in easier times. But in the meanwhile, I think these strategies, whether used separately or together or in some combination, will help you and your children navigate the pandemic and its aftermath.

Check more of this series here:

In this situation, punishment isn't the right answer.

Key Takeaways:

Set an example for recognizing these emotions.
Engage with them and have conversations rather than ignore them.
Isolation will actually make things worse.

The Overly Emotional Child with Karen Gross

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