For children, emotional regulation involves being able to recognise feelings and their emotional state to manage and respond appropriately within heightened emotional experiences.
Depending on the child’s age and developmental level, varying emotional responses might be considered “typical” to a situation. For example, younger children might engage in more “tantrum-like” behaviour, while older children may have developed tools and strategies to articulate how they are feeling and why. Having said this, every child is different, and all feelings are valid and real in heightened moments.
Every parent wants to support their child through these emotions, but it can be hard to know the right strategies to implement. This can understandably lead to feeling helpless and overwhelmed.
Here are 5 strategies to help manage your child’s heightened emotional state or tantrum, from the OTFC group:
- Avoidance: Consider the triggers that elevate your child’s emotions or behaviour, and how these can be minimised. For example, if going to the playground is overstimulating, avoid it in peak times, or replicate their favourite activity at home.
- Diversion: Try to redirect attention to something of value, interest, or novelty that is linked with a sense. “Let’s go FEEL the water,” “Did you just SEE that butterfly!?”
- Sensory: Is there too much noise, too many lights, too many people, too much movement? If so, start thinking about how to manage your child in this environment or how to remove them from it. You might consider purchasing kid-safe earmuffs if entering noisy environments. Remember, it’s okay to focus on removing yourself from a situation to somewhere that feels safe, rather than pushing through.
- Behavioural: This is not the preferred strategy, but you might adopt bargaining techniques to deliver short-term results, or reward desirable behaviour; “If you are able to complete this task, you will receive a sweet treat or a toy.”
- Positive reinforcement: Being consistent in providing positive stimulus to your child after a desirable behaviour is the ultimate goal. Encouraging positive patterns through reinforcement can be done via praise or giving a hug.
Other things to consider:
- Keep calm and consistent. “I am here to help/keep you safe,” “We can talk when your body is calm and ready,” or even reduce your communication to just be there and give space. Children look to others to help ground themselves when elevated – by keeping ourselves calm, this can help de-escalate.
- Focus on de-escalating strategies or redirection, rather than problem solving. Sometimes sitting in heightened moments, talking about big feelings can escalate things further. When your child’s body is more settled and calm, then you can try debriefing about what occurred and their feelings, to support positive and teachable moments.
Head to otfcgroup.com.au/the-tantrum-takedown/ for a free 30-minute webinar with OTFC Clinical Director, Dino Mennillo.
With his extensive experience managing behaviour, Dino shares his expertise and provides additional resources to help take your home from chaos to calm.
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