I bet when you became a foster parent you didn’t know a fraction of what you do know. About brain development, psychology, medical terms, the finnegan scale, and a bunch of terms that were probably meaningless to you before. Today we are going to talk about just that. Emotional regulation.
There are terms referred to in the mental health community that refer to emotional responses that are poorly modulated and do not lie within the accepted range of emotive response.
We see this often in kids in foster care and who have been adopted from hard histories. This is because many of these kids have experienced psychological trauma.
Kids who are dis regulated, can suffer from angry outbursts, aggressions towards self or others. Isolating themselves, throwing things, screaming, reusing to speak, rocking running away, inconsolably crying, dissociating, high levels of anxiety and the inability to be flexible are all signs of emotional dysreglation. Emotional dysregulation can interfere with social interactions and relationships.
Emotional dysregulation is a process with three main steps:
1. An internal or external event (thinking about something sad or encountering someone who is angry) provokes a subjective experience (emotion or feeling);
2. Then a cognitive response (thought) is followed by an emotion-related physiological response (for example, an increase in heart rate or hormonal secretion);
3. The process culminates in a behavior (avoidance, physical action, or expression; PCH Treatment Center, n.d.).
I am going to link a fabulous article where I got these three points from and a lot of other great info
As our kids age they are more prone to self harm, eating disorders and substance abuse. They try other things to regulate their emotions. So how can we help them? How can we help ourselves. Because let’s face it, when we care for these kids we can get caregiver burnout and have troubles with our own emotional dysregulation.
Let’s talk about Baseline: Your emotional baseline is where we sit regularly and depending on what your baseline is, your window of tolerance to be in dysregulation is much lower.
So think about how you feel on an average day, you are not hungry or tired, no one is bothering you or yo are not worried about un upcoming event. This is your emotional baseline. People with an average calm emotional baseline are much better to stabilize their emotive responses and are not quick to anger or get overly emotional when an event happens. They can transition well through activities and last minute change of plans. We all have one and what often happens in foster and adoptive parents is our kids emotional dysregulation can throw off our own baseline so it becomes increasingly difficult for us to help our child to get regulated. We are often focusing so much on helping them that we do not realize that our own emotional baseline has changed.
Self Regulation is something we all need to do to get ourselves to our emotional baseline.
Text Book Term – Self-regulation is the ability to optimally adjust one’s internal affective-social state and subsequent actions in response to a situation. It is the effortful, conscious, purposeful adjustment or inhibition of what might be automatic or unconscious to bring about an intended outcome.
So there is work to be done but the work can be exhausting which leads to over regulation.
Over Regulation is something that can happen to both our kids and us as their caregivers.
To recognise and always be purposefully applying strategies to emotional dysregulation. can be costly. Especially if done over a period of time. Self regulation is like a muscle that grows tired after constant use and we become depleted.
It can manifest as a depletion of energy, a lower immune system and increase of fatigue related conditions. When our emotional baseline is easily triggered due to the trauma in our kids past it is exhausting for them and for you.
You need to be diligent that your emotional baseline doesn’t begin to grow a shorter fuse. Self care is so important. This can be referred to as our window of tolerance.
One of the most powerful tools in emotional regulation is simply identifying and naming the emotion you are feeling.
Anothing thing is mindfulness can be described as living your life in the present moment instead of being stuck in the past or the future. It helps us become more aware of our thought patterns, our emotions, and how our thoughts and feelings affect our reactions to events.
Some other great things for you to do as the caregiver to a child from hard places as well as the child are
Exercise, good sleep, eating well, meditation and being in the presence of people who make you laugh or calm you.
Learning acceptance and letting go is another powerful tool. Sometimes our kids and us can get so caught up on a specific event, behaviour or trauma. Often just accepting it happened or it is and letting it go can be tremendously healing.
Sometimes we just need to let our kids rage and scream, giving them guidelines like punching a pillow or beating on drums or screaming with the music turned up loud. We can’t forget emotional regulation is constant work and we can’t expect perfection with kids from hard places.
Friends, I am not a psychologist or expert in this in any way but I think it is so important as foster parents that we learn about emotional regulation and how we can implement strategies in our kids lives and in our own lives. Check out the article I linked for more, there is lots of valuable content in there.