Kids Need Emotional Regulation Skills

The Healthy Family Connections Podcast:

Episode 045 · Duration: 00:14:56



Kids Need Emotional Regulation Skills

Many children and teens use computer games to calm themselves down and relax. But if that’s the only way for them to be calm, that’s a problem.

Stephanie from Sunnyvale, CA, writes:

Kids Need Emotional Regulation SkillsOur son cannot stop playing on the computer or watching YouTube. Sometimes it is easier for us to get him to stop when he has a fairly good day (at school) – when he is not so upset. Days where he has a bad day (hard math, difficult people at school to deal with, etc.) which means he is quite upset, it is nearly impossible to get him off of his devices because he would yell/scream, break things.

We tried turning off the WiFi a few times but he just got more upset than ever, breaking his bedroom door and other things. We have to be careful because we have two other children who are disturbed by his rages. When we talked to him when we were not in the house he is more willing to listen and seems almost normal.

We just started getting our initial evaluation with a therapist, and we want him to continue going there once a week. We’re worried that if we got him so upset by turning off the WiFi that he would not want to go. We’re thinking that if he goes to talk to the therapist once a week – outside of the house – when he is calm, there is a better chance of him accepting the rules and boundaries and our authorities, eventually turn things around. What can we do? Please help.

Thanks for your question, Stephanie, and your situation sounds quite critical. You don’t mention the age of your son, so it’s hard to give very specific advice. It sounds to me like your son is perhaps in the 6th grade, maybe 5th or 7th. You don’t mention how he’s doing in school, behaviorally or academically, so it’s hard to know how much of the out of control behavior you are seeing plays out at school. Still, it could be very stressful for him to manage school and so he comes home and self-soothes on his computer or acts out with rage and violence.

The bottom line here is that your son is not regulating his emotions; he may not be able to, he may not know how. Currently, he has broken through parental control, so where kids lack self-regulation or self-control, they then have parental regulation and parental control until they learn it. Right now your son doesn’t have either, so he isn’t learning self-regulation. As kids get into their older teen years and young adulthood, if they haven’t developed self-control and there isn’t parental control, then they face societal control, which can come in the form of police officers, judges, and probation officers. Other serious impacts from your son’s emotional dysregulation disorder, include the trauma your other two children are experiencing from his violent rages and the trauma and Parental Burnout you and your husband are no doubt experiencing.

We could say that your son’s emotional dysregulation disorder is seriously undermining his development and causing trauma throughout the family, trauma that will affect his younger siblings for life. It’s also compromising you and your husband’s quality of life as well so now is the time to find a way to help your son develop self-control, and emotional regulation skills.

Stephanie, right now, your husband and you are in a major control battle with your son. You are trying to get him to accept some limits and follow some rules, and he is fighting you and even being violent to resist you. He’s in a state of constant resistance and you are in a state of constantly walking on eggshells. You’re hoping that by going to a therapist once a week he’ll be more amenable to accepting limits. Seeing a therapist could be a good starting point, but that by itself is not going to do it. Your situation is way beyond once a week individual therapy. It is not going to end the control battle.

Stephanie, here is a way forward:

Steps for Evaluating & Addressing the Behavior

The first thing to know is what is going on with him. What is driving this behavior? Are there neurological issues such as a lack of executive function or a lack of development in the part of the brain that regulates emotions? Have there been traumatic events in his life? Are there serious learning disabilities, ADHD or a psychiatric disorder that could be driving the behavior?

So step one is finding out what is going on and what’s driving it. That will need to include neuro-psych testing by a qualified psychologist, and perhaps an evaluation by a pediatric psychiatrist and/or a pediatric neurologist. Hopefully, the therapist who is seeing and assessing him will recommend that and have some high quality referrals for you.

Step two is to get your son to understand that the overwhelming emotions he is experiencing need to be managed by him. They are his emotions and it is his responsibility to manage his emotions. His parents can understand, validate and empathize with his feelings, but his parents can’t control or be controlled by his feelings. Parents need to set reasonable limits, rules, and expectations using their best judgment, and kids need to be accountable to those limits, rules and expectations. As parents you can support your son in managing his rage, but it is his job to control his feelings and behavior.

Parents need to set reasonable limits, rules, and expectations using their best judgment.Click To Tweet

We can communicate all this very supportively. We can let your son know that we care about how hard things are for him, that he’s important to you and is an important person; that we appreciate his strengths and talents. Because of that, we are going to support him in growing and learning to understand and manage his emotions.

Step three, once the assessment is complete, is to get a treatment plan. The plan can include family therapy, individual therapy, medication, and possibly neuro-feedback. As parents, you will need a strategy to both support your son and set limits with your son. You need to become empowered parents! You might want to have your other children stay at a friend or relative’s house for a couple of nights until you establish a new behavioral standard with your son. If he acts out and commits violence against his parents or property, you might want to call your local police so that you can get support for the message that violence is unacceptable.

An Alternative Treatment Option

Now, Stephanie, let me offer you this. If none of this works – your son won’t cooperate with testing, your new empowered parenting approach doesn’t stem the violence, and a parent-child or parent-teen control battles persists. It’s time to consider an out of the home placement. That way your son can get himself under control, you can get him assessed, and you and your husband and other kids can get your mental health and a new healthy family dynamic started. The process of growth and change can happen while your son gets intensive treatment and you establish an empowered parenting approach.

Let me also be clear that if you or any parents are considering a residential placement, whether it’s a short-term intervention and assessment program or a moderate or longer-term program, always work with a licensed professional to do the placement. They should have at least 10 years of experience, visit the placements regularly, have an advanced degree in a mental health field, and have expertise in child and adolescent development.

Choosing a placement on your own is like throwing darts for one life's most important decisions.Click To Tweet

My Challenge for Parents

Thanks for sending us your question, Stephanie. Here is my challenge to all of us: while Stephanie’s son is struggling with serious emotional regulation issues, how are our emotional regulation skills? How are we doing teaching them to our children? Are we clear that learning emotional regulation is an important and learned behavior? Let’s do this; find a couple of times during the week where the family comes together. NO DEVICES. Now make this family centering time. Maybe it’s 10 minutes before we sit down for dinner. Maybe before we watch a family movie. Everyone takes a minute of silence and breathes, and focuses on the moment. Now everyone thinks of one thing they are grateful for in their life today and shares it out loud. There is a ton written on the subject of mindfulness these days and there’s mindfulness for children and teens too. This can be a very positive and supportive element to learning healthy emotional management skills.

Let's do this; find a couple of times during the week where family comes together. NO DEVICES.Click To Tweet

Thanks for tuning in today, everyone, and once again special thanks to Stephanie for her urgent question. In support of parents looking to find a more empowered parenting approach, an approach that is clear, confident, and yet supportive and validating, come on over to my website, www.neildbrown.com, and sign up for my new 6 week online Empowered Parenting Workshop. While you’re there, sign up for my weekly email where you’ll receive my weekly blog or podcast or submit your questions to Neil.

The holidays are right around the corner. Do you know someone who might benefit from reading my book, Ending the Parent-Teen Control Battle? It’s readily available, inexpensive, and could make a big difference in their life.

And please, take care of yourselves; you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it. Bye for now.


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