Right now we are all feeling a little (or a lot overwhelmed). Kids are the same. Their lives have been turned upside down. As everyone continues to try to “find a new normal”, kids are getting more and more frustrated. They just want to play with their friends and do all their favorite things again. When kids are frustrated it comes out as behaviors, yelling, and sometimes a child you don’t recognize. You may be saying “She never used to act like this” or “why can’t you just calm down?” Often we are caught off guard, and something that seems like it should be “no big deal” turns into a massive meltdown. This affects not only the child, but the entire family. We have certainly had these struggles at our house, and likely you are having the same problems. As a parent, it is maddening to try and figure out what is wrong. Sometimes kids can’t tell you; they just know they are frustrated. They are struggling with control. Self-control is the ability to control your own emotions and behaviors. Another name for is self-regulation or sensory regulation. Sometimes kids struggle with self-control because of difficulties with sensory processing and sensory modulation. Sensory processing is how our nervous system takes in sensory information from the environment and makes sense of it. Sensory modulation is controlling the amount of sensory input that comes into the nervous system. Some kids are sensory seekers and some are sensory avoiders. When there is a disconnect between the sensory information coming in, and the child’s ability to process it, there is often difficulties with self-control.
Other times difficulties with self-control stem from struggles with emotions and external circumstances. This is likely the case for many children right now. There are lots of tools you can use to help children learn about their own emotions and come up with strategies to calm themselves when feeling overwhelmed. I often use How Does Your Engine Run and Zones of Regulation. The picture above is a great visual to teach kids about self-control. First, you STOP what you are doing, THINK about the different options you have, after you chose the options you can reACT.
If we equip our children with simple tools to help them think through different options, they are empowered to realize they are in control. They can learn to think before reacting. This will be so powerful to a family when a child can have better self-control. Pediatric occupational therapists are one of your best resources in teaching children self-control. They are uniquely positioned to look at the child from a neurological (sensory) and behavioral perspective.