Roads to Regulation

Image courtesy of satit_srihin /

Image courtesy of satit_srihin /

The key to dysregulated kids is figuring out how to re-regulate them.  So simple, right?  NOT.

Here are some strategies that have worked recently with our kids:

  1. Art. Art therapy can double as regulating and healing.  Even if your child won’t divulge her deepest secrets through art, getting creative can be distracting enough to help the brain move out of survival mode.
  2. Reading. Reading involves brain integration which is really important in emotional regulation.  Recently, a dysregulated child demanded she be the mom.  I decided to play along and respectfully asked her to read me a book.  She agreed and 20 minutes later, she was regulated and ready to process what had happened.
  3. Humor.  I’ll be the first to admit that my sense of humor usually takes a long vacation when I’m waiting for a child to regulate.  However, tapping into humor can create connection which will regulate a child whose sympathetic nervous system is in overdrive. Staring contests or mirroring our child’s ridiculous facial expressions can often break the tension. Being super silly can help too. We once regulated a child by pretending to have a conversations with her hand.
  4. Appealing to a passion. Know what makes your child tick.  They often can’t resist talking about their favorite thing.  Conversation (not to be confused with the verbal abuse that often defines dysregulation), similar to reading, engages the part of the brain that is logical which can help disengage the reptilian brain which is telling your child to fight for his life. Holy run-on, Batman!
  5. Upside Down.  I recently read that inversion is hugely regulating for kid with sensory processing disorder (particularly sensory seekers).  We’ve resorted to handstand and frog stand challenges as a quick means to regulate a child.  They usually end in a giggling episode which diffuses the situation and allows us to address the heart issue at hand.
  6. Hair Play.  This is a girl-specific technique I would imagine.  In an attempt to fully regulate our daughter, I asked if she would make me beautiful by styling my hair.  She couldn’t resist.  By the end, I was beautified and we had completely reconnected.
  7. Turn it into a game.  This is similar to the humor advice.  Keep it playful or strive for playfulness.  A dysregulated child threw a shirt at me the other day, I threw it back but in a playful way.  It turned into a game a game of t-shirt catch complete with fake outs.

Basically anything you can conjure up that engages the higher-level functions of the brain and fosters connection will work.  Unfortunately, what works for one child probably won’t work for another and even what works day-to-day changes.  I often feel like a magician who is running out of tricks in her bag.

Do you have any go-to tricks?

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