Emotional Regulation in Times of Uncertainty
Now, more than ever, our children and teens need support and the skills to manage their emotions and experiences.
Our children and teens are experiencing the world in a way none of us had to during our own development. In California, we have a new way of life due to the Covid-19 pandemic and now our state is on fire. Our youth have had to leave their friends and schools to be home, they missed out on summer bike rides and play dates, they heard the news and conversations about a virus that had changed the world. Fires are displacing families, closing remote learning, and keeping everyone inside due to air quality. Imagine trying to make sense of an orange sky and days of smoke filled air with just a handful of years of experience in coping with changes. It was hard for us as adults; I have never heard the word “apocalyptic” used as many times as I have in the last week. As we all adjust to what these major experiences mean for our own lives our children and teens are also trying to maintain friendships, adjust to less physical activity, fewer social interactions, and to see our communities behind masks. They are going to school, but at home, or from 6 feet apart with limited play and recess time. Let’s just take a moment to acknowledge how much we are all dealing with, but especially our youth.
Emotional regulation is the ability to effectively and healthily manage emotions and cope with experiences. It is an important skill to develop and understand. As emotional regulation skills are developed, people are better prepared to handle changes, experiences, impulses, and transitions in their lives. These skills assist us throughout life. Dysregulation can look like meltdowns, anger, avoidance, fear, and sadness. I think we can all agree that in normal times it is important to help our youth develop these skills but now, with more on their plates than ever, it is essential.
At home, there are many things you can do to help support your child develop emotional regulation:
Approach this as a skill that can be built opposed to “bad behavior.”
Help coach your child through hard things. Don’t purposefully avoid challenging situations.
Provide scaffolding by helping them through a situation (or part of it) and then let them try it on their own.
Practice, practice, practice. Depending on your situation you can intentionally practice, such as praciting coming off a video game or managing emotions in a store. If that isn’t an option, you can practice in real life situations as they occur.
Focus on progress not perfection. Take small steps and know that they are creating new skills and habits. Our children deserve grace and patience during the learning process.
Provide non-judgmental and non-emotional reflection. Help make your home and relationship a safe place for learning, growth, and mistakes.
Validate your child and encourage them to believe that all emotions are okay to feel. Remember no emotion is good, bad, right or wrong.
Model emotional regulation and share about your own experience. Youth learn from what they see and hear, so taking care of yourself and continuing to develop your own abilities will help them grow.
Use book, movie, and television show characters to talk about emotions and regulation.
Make sure to share your own challenges and how you handle them. Did you apologize, journal, talk with a friend, take a walk, or do you wish you had done something differently?
Talk about feelings, use emotional words, and share your own self-care processes. Invite your child to join you in self-care.
The youth I have encountered this year have continued to show resilience and flexibility. Surely there are many times that emotions are intense, meltdowns are happening, and many of us know how hard it is for us and them to handle the many questions about being on a screen (again). However, if we step back for a moment and slow down we can see the remarkable job our youth are doing to manage their day-to-day lives. Let’s make sure that we all acknowledge and honor this in our children and teens.
Things are constantly changing in our lives, we don’t know exactly how things will turn out and, for our Middle Schoolers, trying to figure out what being a tween and teen means for them and to develop into this phase of life, it is even more complex. Despite their remarkable ability to manage 2020, we must help them develop skills to process their experiences and continue to grow into healthy adults. We all have the benefit of our own experiences and we can offer them guidance on building their skills to regulate emotion.
Do you have a middle schooler that could use more support? Do you live in California?
We are launching an online Middle School (5th-8th grade) group next week! Click through to learn more!