Emotional Dysregulation

What is it?

Emotional regulation or self-regulation is the ability to control “big feelings” or emotions, when they have them, including the way they experience and express them. Some children are born with self-regulation challenges. However, young children under the age of 6 are little people with big feelings and sometimes, angry outbursts can be the only way they know how to express their feelings.

What are the common signs of emotional dysregulation disorder in children?

  • Angry outbursts without a justified reason 
  • Excessive crying, often more intense and lasting longer than what is situationally appropriate Physical aggression toward others
  • Self-harming thoughts and behaviours

When is it time to seek professional help? 

Infants can show signs of emotional dysregulation, and some then grow up to have behavioural and emotional problems. It may be time to seek professional help when the child is showing signs of extreme fluctuations of mood and emotions and their inability to regulate their emotional state is beginning to affect their family, peers, school performance, and long-term mental health.

What can be done? 

  • Build emotional literacy by encouraging children to accurately identify and name feelings. 
  • Play therapy involves the use of toys and games to help the child recognize, identify, and express feelings. 
  •  Provide psycho-education and teach a child how to identify unique body signals and how to connect them with their feelings. 
  • Teach self-regulation and coping skills using positive language and mindfulness strategies.
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help a child recognize unhealthy behaviours and learn how to change them.

What makes some children more vulnerable to emotional dysregulation? 

  • Family history of mental health challenges and brain-based disorders 
  • Trauma, adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress

Where can I access support?

Talk to the child’s family doctor or pediatrician to help identify if the child’s behaviour is normal for their developmental stage. 

Talk to the child’s guardianship worker to explore what options are available for assessment so their diagnosis and treatment plan can be included in their Care Plan. The guardianship worker will help make appropriate referrals for specialized supports and services.

Get an assessment through your local Child and Youth Mental Health team. Your local CYMH office offers a range of free and voluntary mental health services and supports for children from 0-18 years of age and their families. These services include assessments, therapy and treatment, education and referrals to specialized programs and resources. There are 100 intake clinics for children, youth and their families at convenient locations throughout BC. 

You can also contact a private psychologist or counsellor through the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors or the BC Psychological Association. You can use website filters to search for a counsellor in your community that specializes in certain mental health challenges.

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