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Tips for Helping Children Self-Regulate

When it comes to difficult behaviors in young children, anger and aggression can be especially challenging. These behaviors have incredibly powerful effects on both children and adults and can be some of the most frustrating and disruptive events you encounter at home or at school.

Anger includes thoughts and feelings, which can lead to aggressive behavior. The child physically experiences anger in the way he or she “feels”, including disappointment, irritability, or a lack of power and control. In this way, the child’s behaviors or actions are attempts to gain control of a situation or put things back the way “they should be.” Hitting, kicking and shouting are all common in the child who is angry.

It is important to remember that kids explode or have meltdowns when they are frustrated. In our work with children here at the Center for Collaborative Counseling and Psychiatry, we see kids present with lagging skills in the domains of flexibility, emotional regulation and adaptability. These are kiddos who have great difficulty applying these skills when they are needed the most. It is a skill deficit, not a deficit in motivation. This is not an excuse, but rather an explanation of the child’s challenging behavior.

Fortunately, these same children can be taught to identify the earliest warning signs of an impending meltdown or their triggers to angry behaviors. Parents and other concerned adults in the child’s life can help that child understand that, while they can feel mad, they must learn to express those emotions in ways that do not hurt themselves or others.

Here are some suggestions parents or other concerned adults can help kids gain self-control and avoid damaging behavior when they are angry. It is important to note that not all strategies will work for all children. What works for one child may not work for another. These strategies are provided as ideas only.

  • Model appropriate anger management behaviors yourself. In other words, don’t overreact or let your emotions get the best of you. Let the child know what you are feeling and how you are going to handle those difficult emotions. Be sure to let the child know you understand they are angry and try to not to match their anger with your own anger.
  • Communicate effectively to help the child calm down. Get on the same level with the child and use friendly eye contact and gentle gestures to draw the child’s attention.
  • Teach the child to label his/her feelings and express their feelings using words.

Here at the Center for Collaborative Counseling and Psychiatry, we help teach the child and parents self-calming techniques such as deep breathing, guided imagery/visualization and other relaxation techniques. We also help the child put a name to their problems in terms that point the way to a solution. For example, a child diagnosed as having ADHD could see the problem as “impulsiveness” and the solution “learning to think before you act.” Another counseling activity is teaching kids and parents how to develop and use problem-solving skills. Children with behavioral problems often act without thinking about the consequences of what they are doing. Teaching problem solving skills is an effective way to enhance self-control and communication, while encouraging more adaptive behaviors.

These are important coping skills and help children feel happier and more able to achieve their goals. As children get older they can use these skills in their relationships with others or in various situations, even when in the presence of anger.

We’re Here to Help!

Our clinicians specialize in the treatment of ADHD, anger and other disruptive disorder in children and teens at our office in Elgin. Feel free to give us a call to learn how counseling, medication evaluation/management and psychological evaluations can be helpful, or call to schedule an appointment. You can reach us at 847-440-2281 or