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Supporting Kids’ Emotional Well-Being

Tantrums. Outbursts. Big emotions. Or in my case, “PINK DRESS!” at the age of 18 months was one of the first defining moments that I wasn’t your “typical” child, and my mom LOVES to tell this story… She had made two identical dresses for me. One was pink, and one was blue. They both had little flowers all over, with some hand-painted ones on the front. One morning, my mom was getting me dressed. She reached for the blue dress and tried to put it on me. I refused. Well, not only refused – threw a full-on fit, yelling “PINK DRESS” over and over. She calmly told me it was dirty and that I was to wear the blue one, which was exactly the same. My anger grew, “PINK DRESS, PINK DRESS”! I continued to yell, and my reaction continued to escalate into a full-on temper tantrum, where I eventually held my breath and started to turn blue. Keep in mind, I was only 18 months old! My poor mom, scared I was going to make myself pass out, grabbed the wrinkled, dirty pink dress out from the laundry bin. I put it on, took a deep breath, brushed it off, and walked away like nothing happened. My mom sat there in disbelief, researched, and promptly purchased the Raising Your Spirited Child book by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka (highly recommended) later that day. 

Supporting Kids’ Emotional Well-Being

Intense. Spirited. Passionate. Persistent. Feeling all the feels. I resonate with this deeply as this is a part of who I am. As an adult, I chose to honor that piece of me, and I have spent years supporting my ability to successfully manage my emotions (for the most part, as we are only human). I have spent my career coaching kids, their parents, and teachers on this. It is one thing to send away the emotions and bury them deep. But to feel and manage them takes more strength and perseverance from my perspective. 

Emotional regulation is burdensome for anyone. For those with ADHD, this is one of the HARDEST things to do, let alone when you are a child. Here are five steps to support emotional regulation for yourself and your child. 

  1. Create awareness
    Noticing when we are being triggered and how we feel it in our body can help us pause and choose mindfully how to react. It is crucial for adults to notice their own state because how we react to our children sets them up for how they respond.
  2. Take deep belly breaths
    Don’t tell your child to breathe. Breathe FOR them and yourself. Taking deep breaths from your diaphragm, aka belly breaths, helps tell your brain to calm your stress response actively. Breathing next to your child activates mirror neurons in their brain, which will mimic this response and, in turn, can help your child (and you) from escalating. 
  3. Name and validate
    Name the emotion- “it looks like you’re frustrated.” Validate their feelings – “That makes sense that this is hard.” As Dr. Dan Siegel says, you must name it [the emotion/feeling] to tame it. Validation supports the need to feel connected and heard. Even as an adult, it feels better to have someone validate our emotions rather than tell us to calm down. 
  4. Practice
    Try practicing positive ways to safely express your child’s emotions when they are not super upset, such as squeezing a pillow, pushing a wall, or clenching and unclenching their fists. Even prompting words such as “Can I have a turn when you are done?’” is a great way to help teach an appropriate skill and prevent future conflicts. 
  5. Identify triggers for self and child
    What makes you tick? Whining, crying, loud noises, hitting, hangries? Identifying what pushes your buttons can help you move forward with a better idea of what you need to stay regulated. In turn, identifying your child’s triggers can help you find proactive strategies to prevent the outburst from escalating, such as having snacks in the car at pick-up.

With these steps, you can mindfully choose whether to bring fuel or water to the fire. Modeling these steps for yourself can also create better awareness for your kids. It can also help change the family dynamic to help each other cope. If you want to dive deeper into this and find hands-on strategies to support yourself and your children, join my upcoming workshop in March and April, Emotionally Resilient Children: Supporting Children with ADHD and Emotional Regulation!

Alicia Kohls, M. Ed., PCAC

Alicia Kohls, M.Ed, PCAC

ADHD Coach and Life Coach, Executive Skills Coach