Updated: Dec 20, 2022
Why is Emotion Regulation important?
Emotions have a powerful influence in our lives, giving us the ability to feel and experience the world. They exist on many different levels, highs, lows, and everything in between. Due to how dynamic emotions can be, our emotions may assist us better or lead us into difficulty.
Emotional regulation is the ability to manage our emotional responses, particularly in situations that may provoke emotions such as anxiety, stress and frustration (Gross, 2014). Often, we are unable to control things that happen in life, but we can learn to control the way we respond to them. An individual who is emotionally self-regulated would be able to take charge of their emotions instead of allowing their emotions to take over (Kashdan, Young, & Machell, 2015).
However, in the case for individuals with autism, they tend to find it hard to manage their feelings (Torrado, Gomez, & Montoro, 2017). They may overreact to situations, experience negative emotions for a longer period, engage in emotional outbursts and have mood swings. It is common among individuals with ASD to face difficulties in emotion regulation, as they are simply not equipped with the necessary tools to manage the situation and the emotions that arise with it (Ashburner, Ziviani, & Rodger, 2010). Therefore, it is crucial in getting the child to recognize what they are feeling and how they can cope with their emotions in a healthy way.
Research has also shown that children who are able to regulate emotions tend to be more flexible in their thinking and have better focus, impulse control and problem-solving skills (Raver & Blair, 2016). Furthermore, these benefits have a ripple effect which leads to greater emotional well-being, confidence and happiness (Seaton & Beaumont, 2015)!
Strategies on Emotion Regulation
Although some individuals may have excellent coping skills, emotional regulation is a skill, and just like any skill it can be learned and improved with practice.
One such strategy is the usage of an emotion scale, which depicts the different levels of emotions that a child may feel – ‘I am feeling great!’, ‘I am doing okay’, ‘I am getting irritated’, ‘I am really upset’, ‘I need some help!’. In the second column of the feelings chart, as shown in Figure 1, various ways of coping, including the child’s favourite activity can be listed down – ‘What I can do’. With this visual aid, the person working with the child can get him or her to identify and communicate their feelings, and help the child to decide how they want to calm down appropriately. Prior to using this scale, the child should be capable of identifying and labelling emotions.
Figure 1. Example of a feelings chart.
1. Deep Breathing
For the most straightforward approach in getting the child to calm down, deep breathing is the way to go. However, learning and practicing effective deep breathing exercises can be difficult for children. It is important to incorporate strategies which help them to visualise and practice deep breathing in a fun way. For example, getting them to blow a pinwheel, using a straw and a bowl of soapy water to make bubbles, smelling a warm cookie or a hot drink and many more!
Similarly, counting is another coping strategy, which can be incorporated with deep breathing. By getting the child to use their hands, taking in one deep breath as the fingers countdown from 10/5, and breathing out slowly while the fingers count back to 10/5. Another method which incorporates counting is getting the child to count while we retrieve the thing that they want or a reinforcer – ‘Lets count to 10/20 while I get your _______.’ There is no fixed number for the child to count to but rather it depends on the situation and what the child needs.
3. Sensory Activities
Essentially, the main aim of regulating one’s emotions is to achieve a state of relaxation particularly in distressing situations. Therefore, by engaging in activities that target the senses, it can have a calming effect on the child’s emotions. Activities such as squeezing stress balls and running their hands through a box filled with beads are touch-based that can provide a calming effect for many kids. Homemade crafts like glitter jars or rain sticks can provide soothing sights and sounds. Calming smells can also be created with essential oils like lavender.
Overall, by incorporating and practicing these strategies, children with autism would be better equipped in managing their emotions and expressing themselves. Developing these important emotional regulation skills will definitely contribute to a healthy mind, body and overall well-being!
Written by Rebecca.
Ashburner, J., Ziviani, J., & Rodger, S. (2010). Surviving in the mainstream: Capacity of children with autism spectrum disorders to perform academically and regulate their emotions and behavior at school. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 4(1), 18- 27. doi:10.1016/j.rasd.2009.07.002
Gross, J. J. (2014). Emotion regulation: Conceptual and empirical foundations. In J. J. Gross (Ed.), Handbook of emotion regulation (2nd ed., pp. 3-20). New York, NY: The Guildford Press.
Kashdan, T. B., Young, K. C., & Machell, K. A. (2015). Positive emotion regulation: Addressing two myths. Current Opinion in Psychology, 3, 117-121. doi: 10.1016/j.copsyc.2014.12.012
Raver, C. C., & Blair, C. (2016). Neuroscientific insights: Attention, working memory, and inhibitory control. The Future of Children, 26(2), 95-111. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1118545.pdf
Seaton, C. L., & Beaumont, S. L. (2015). Pursuing the good life: A short-term follow-up study of the role of positive/negative emotions and ego-resilience in personal goal striving and eudaimonic well-being. Motivation and Emotion, 35(5), 813-826. doi:10.1007/s11031- 015-9493-y
Torrado, J. C., Gomez, J., & Montoro, G. (2017). Emotional self-regulation of individuals with autism spectrum disorders: Smartwatches for monitoring and interaction. Sensors, 17, 1-29. doi:10.3390/s17061359