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Good Guidance with Silke Hetherington & Jenny Morris

 ​Good Guidance
with Silke Hetherington & Jenny Morris 
Managing Emotions –
Skills That Teenagers Need To Learn
(adapted from an article by Linda Stade)  
We expect emotional outbursts from very young children, but by the time they are in their tweens and teens we expect them to be controlled and self managing. It is a big ask…and unrealistic. Emotional maturity takes a long time. The brain only reaches adult state in a person’s twenties. There are times in this development where the experience of emotion is multiplied by the impact of hormones. When these chemicals first flood the brain at around age two and then again during puberty, all hell can break loose.  
We also tend to underestimate how often a child has to self regulate over the course of a day. We tend not to notice because we are so good at it and we forget what it was like to not have those skills down pat. Think about it… 
  • Wake up and work up the enthusiasm for school
  • Sibling interactions that may be competitive and raw
  • Boredom on the bus
  • Walk past a student who has upset you the day before
  • Get called on by the teacher when you don’t know the answer
  • Excitement at getting a text from a girl/boy you like
  • Do poorly on a test
  • Disappointment at not making the netball team
  • Frustration about a new Math concept
  • Last period on a Friday over excitement  
And on and on and on…  
Transitions are particularly challenging and school is all about transitions. Every hour high school students stand up, change rooms, adapt to the expectations of a new teacher, tackle completely different content and make social adjustments based on who is in the class. It’s exhausting. It is little wonder kids often feel grumpy and spent after school. Remember, they are also in uniforms; often not comfortable and certainly not their choice. Truth be told, I know I’d be a more relaxed soul if I could come to school in thongs and tracky pants. Kids are the same.  
What Are The Skills Of Emotional Regulation? 
According to Alice Boyes PhD there are ten skills of emotional self regulation that we need to master by the time we are adults.  
  • Identifying which specific emotions you’re feeling.
  • Identifying which specific emotions someone else is feeling.
  • The ability to start and persist with pursuing goals even when you feel anxious.
  • The ability to tolerate awkwardness.
  • The ability to have intimate conversations rather than stonewall, avoid, or flee.
  • The ability not to crumble when someone is pressuring you.
  • The ability to soothe your own emotions.
  • The ability to soothe other people’s emotions.
  • The ability to not go over the top with positive emotion.
  • The ability to delay gratification.  
When a child doesn’t learn appropriate self regulation they can take on maladaptive strategies instead. These are harmful behaviours that in one way or other either numb the experience of emotion, channel it into another form of manageable pain or avoid feeling altogether. Some of the most common maladaptive behaviours are: 
  • Avoidance of emotion
  • ‘Acting out’
  • Withdrawal
  • Aggression
  • Excessive social media use
  • Self harm (Often described as a way of ‘feeling something’)
  • Alcohol and drug use
  • Excessive gaming (It provides a consistent, safe, unemotional world)
  • Social media abuse
  • Eating disorders linked to control
  • Promiscuity  
So, What Can We Do To Help Children Develop Their Emotional Regulation?  
  1. Create emotionally expressive environments at home and school.
  2. Develop your empathy response and teach that to children. Kids need to feel heard. You don’t have to fix anything, just listen to understand.
  3. Create a strong sense of belonging. Ritual and routine can help here.
  4. Model your own emotional regulation. Talk about emotions you are experiencing and the strategies you are using to regulate those emotions.
  5. Overtly teach strategies for self regulation eg: Self-talk, Meditation, Take a break, Exercise, Talk with a good listener, Breathe.
  6. Talk to kids about emotional regulation and strategies when they are calm, not in the middle of a melt down.
  7. Teach kids that positive emotions need to be regulated, not just negative ones. When kids talk over others or act ‘over the top’ and silly because they are excited they put people off. 
Finally…remind children that crying is a valid form of emotional regulation. Remember yourself that it’s not necessary to stop someone crying. It won’t make them feel better. Just be with it. Tears are not a sign of weakness or of lack of competence. Crying releases emotional tension and can flag distress. Just because someone is emotional does not mean that what they are saying or thinking is not rational.