The big example of a dysregulated child is a child who is violent. In school this looks like destroying a classroom, turning over desks, punching holes in the walls, throwing objects, and attempting to hurt people. In the home, the behavior may come out toward parents or siblings, against the physical peace of the home or against themselves.
At the core of dysregulation is a child who is not able to regulate themselves or return to a baseline understanding of safety and peacefulness. This can be a toddler that is crying for a lengthy period of time or small child tantruming for 45 minutes.
Let’s look at an adult that is dysregulated.. dysregulation is something we experience frequently. It occurs in most of us when we do not get our way or when we are under pressure. As adults, we have learned skills (be them healthy or not) that enable us to return to our baseline when the stressful situation is over or even despite of it. Reflect on ways that you “catch your breath” so to speak. You may literally take a deep breath or close your eyes. You may say a prayer or mantra. You make take a walk or reach out to a friend for reassurance. There are very basic needs that we have as infants and children that need to be met to help us regulate. When we are born we are totally dependent on our caregivers to physically help us regulate ourselves. As we grow into toddlers and become more emotive, we depend on physical touch, sound, smell and tone of voice to soothe us when we are distressed. These components are still important for our school age children and for us as adults.
I often find it playing out in parenting my two year old like this: I set a firm boundary. She disagrees and verbalizes. I restate my firm “no” and she cries. I offer a hug (sometimes). She is able to regulate and we move on with our day. Or she continues to be upset and I address some basic needs: sleep, snack or water.
Why do some kids struggle more than others with regulation?
This could be, in the case of autism spectrum strengths and weaknesses, because the child has difficulty reading any adults including their parents, despite being treated lovingly their entire live.
Or it could be that the child has learned they cannot trust the adults in their lives, so when you come in as a trustworthy adult, they do not recognize that you are any different and behave in a way that may be labeled DBD “Destructive Behavior Disorder” or ODD “Oppositional Defiant Disorder”. This disruptive or oppositional behavior is their way of adapting in often unsafe situations and ensuring their survival.
Together this month we will look at ways to help the precious children in our lives learn to regulate their emotions. We will be reminded that these tools are GREAT for kids and for us as adults. As always, I’m here if you need to talk!