Emotional regulation is critical in the middle of uncertainty. Feelings such as fear, anxiety, stress, boredom are all normal responses at this time. With the COVID19 global crisis, families face such things as indefinite suspension of classroom attendance, working from home, activity and event cancellations, and concern for loved ones; particularly the elderly. Many think of regulation as “being calm” when in fact it is more about staying connected to one’s self. A connection to self can be achieved quickly by noticing what one is feeling and then taking long deep breaths with equal inhales and exhales.
The way we breathe dramatically affects our nervous system. When a person is regulated in a moment, they can think clearly, make a conscious choice, notice their breath, and feel grounded. What is really wonderful is that a caregiver can in fact be an “external regulator” for a child. If the caregiver works toward their own regulation, through naming their experience out loud, breath, and movement, then the child can naturally follow suit.
With many families at home together at this time, building in regulation activities throughout the day is key. Listed below are some examples of activities that can be used to help regulate a dysregulated nervous system. It will be helpful do these pro-actively as well as in times of dysregulation.
- Be around or connected with familiar and close relationships
- Breathe, breathe, breathe,
- Run, jump, spin, dance with pauses to take deep breaths
- Bounce on a yoga ball or roll across the floor back and forth.
- Massages or deep pressure on arms and legs
- Take a bath or shower, splash cold water
- Walk, run, and move any way that feels good.
- Make a game and have child jump high to catch something.
- Art, board games, listen to music.
Other ways to support children:
- Check in with your child on a regular basis and clarify any misunderstandings
- Help them express their feelings through art or other activities
- Keep your family’s schedule consistent with bedtimes, meals, and exercise.
- Shift expectations to focus on what gives the family meaning, purpose, and fulfillment.
- Give yourself breaks from stress of the situation.
- Play and enjoy things that we often do not have time for!
- Reactions How to help
- Fear of being alone, bad dreams Patience and tolerance
- Speech difficulties Provide reassurance (verbal and physical)
- Loss of bladder/bowel control Encourage expression through play/story-telling
- Change in appetite Allow short-term changes in sleep arrangements
- Increased temper tantrums, whining, or clinging Plan calming activities before bedtime
- Maintain regular family routines Avoid media exposure
SCHOOL AGE (ages 6-12)
Irritability, whining, aggressive behavior Patience, tolerance, and reassurance
Clinging, nightmares Play sessions and staying in touch with friends through telephone and Internet
Sleep/appetite disturbance Regular exercise and stretching
Physical symptoms (headaches, stomach-aches Engage in educational activities
Withdrawal from peers, loss of interest Set gentle but firm limits
Competition for parents’ attention Limit media exposure
Forgetfulness about chores Help family create ideas for enhancing health promotion behaviors and maintaining family routines.
Encourage expression through play and conversation.
ADOLESCENTS AGES (13 – 18)
Physical symptoms (headaches, rashes, etc.) Patience, tolerance, and reassurance
Sleep/appetite disturbance Encourage continuation of routines
Agitation or decrease in energy, apathy Stay in touch with friends through phone, internet, video games
Ignoring health promotion behaviors Family routines, supporting younger siblings, and planning strategies to enhance health promotion behaviors.
Concerns about stigma and injustices Limit media exposure. Discuss and address stigma, prejudice and in injustice occurring.
Isolating from peers and loved ones.
All of us who are parents, grandparents, and caregivers will benefit greatly from taking time throughout the day to breathe intentionally, regulate our own thoughts and feelings as best we can and then celebrate and be grateful for our loving presence in the lives of our children.