Teaching Emotional Regulation

Emotional regulation is a skill that is learned.  Some children develop a better sense of regulating and controlling their emotions than others in the natural course of growing up but others do not develop the skill so well. This guide is therefore aimed at helping you as parent, carers, teachers or health professionals, to teach emotional regulation skills.  To do this, we use a toolkit called CHARGE and this is going to help the child, adolescent or adult express and manage their emotions in a healthy way.

Mother and daughter using exercise as a form of emotional regulation

This blog is about how to teach emotional regulation skills to children, adolescents and adults.  If you’re unsure what emotional regulation is, we have written a blog entitled: What is Emotional Regulation? and this is a great place to start.

Learning Emotional Regulation in Normal Development

Emotional regulation is a skill that is learned.  Some children develop a better sense of regulating and controlling their emotions than others in the natural course of growing up but others do not develop the skill so well.

This article is therefore aimed at helping you as parent, carers, teachers or health professionals, to teach emotional regulation skills.  To do this, we use a toolkit called CHARGE and this is going to help the child, adolescent or adult express and manage their emotions in a healthy way.

Emotions can often be overwhelming for people that haven’t got the necessary regulation skills.  The CHARGE toolkit helps you, and the person you are caring for, break overwhelming situations down so they are more manageable.  Let’s see how it works.

The CHARGE Toolkit - a Framework for Teaching Emotional Regulation

CHARGE stands for the various tools we have at our disposal to regulate emotions. They are:

  • Chat tools
  • Helpful thinking tools
  • Amusement tools
  • Relaxation tools
  • Good routine tools
  • Exercise tools

When we feel our emotions are out of control, we can use one of (or a combination of) these tools to diffuse and manage the emotion.  

The key to teaching emotional regulation is to empower the individual with this knowledge and these skills.  Let’s explore each tool in more detail:

Chat Tools

Chat tools are ways to help someone talk about their emotions in an appropriate way by:

  • Finding the right person and/or pet for emotional support.
  • Communicating about what emotion they are experiencing
  • Talking and sorting out the problem.

Helpful Thinking Tools

Helpful thinking tools are tools that help the individual change their thinking from unhelpful and unhealthy ways of thinking into more realistic, helpful and healthy ways of thinking by:

  • Thinking in a balanced and realistic way about the situation,
  • Responding with a calmer mind to the challenging situation,
  • Thinking in ways that enable them to stay in control of their emotions. 

Amusement Tools

Amusement tools are tools that help the individual shift their focus from the stressful situation giving rise to negative emotions to something fun by:   

  • Distracting themselves so that they stop focusing on the stressful situation,
  • Improving their mood,
  • Releasing their tension to better deal with the challenging situation.

Relaxation Tools

Relaxation tools are tools that help the individual calm down by:

  • Preventing further escalation of the emotion,
  • Regaining their sense of control,
  • Returning them to a calmer state so that they can act and think in a controlled manner. 

Good Routine Tools

Good routine tools are tools that help the individual have a sense of structure, predictability, security and balance in their day by: 

  • Providing information about the sequence of activities in their day,
  • Incorporating mood enhancing (pleasurable) activities, healthy lifestyle activities, choice making opportunities and daily goals,
  • Informing them about any changes in their day.      

Exercise Tools

Exercise tools are tools that help the individual discharge any energy by: 

  • Engaging in physical activities that suit their personality, preferences and fitness levels,
  • Stimulating the production of endorphins (feel good hormones) to restore emotional equilibrium,
  • Regaining composure.

It’s worth saying that different tools work better for some than others.  It might take a few passes to find which helps you and the person you are helping best in different situations.

To help you manage this process, we have developed an app.  It is called the Rainbow of Emotions App.  More on this at the end of this article.

The Four Phases of Teaching Emotional Regulation

Now we have learned about the CHARGE toolkit, here is a four step process to implementing the tools in an effective way.

Phase 1: Providing a Rationale

Aim: Help the individual understand “why” emotional regulation skills are useful.   

This usually takes the form of a conversation about their emotions, discussing what happens when emotions get out of control and how that makes them, and those around them feel.

Discuss the benefits of regulating emotions. These might include preventing disagreements with friends or simply feeling calmer and happier inside.

It’s helpful to provide this rationale in the first step so the person you are helping can root their efforts in this overall aim.

Phase 2: Providing Modelling

This phase is about guiding the individual through the process of identifying when emotional regulation is needed, choosing a tool to use to regulate the emotion and examples of how to use that tool.

For example, if the individual often loses their temper and becomes angry, exercise might be a great tool to discharge some of that energy, create endorphins and help the person regain composure.

Phase 3: Provide guided practice 

This phase provides the individual  with multiple opportunities to practise or rehearse in staged situations that are like the actual situation.  

  • Use a variety of teaching techniques, such as:
  • Coaching the individual  through the steps
  • Role playing 
  • Videotaped interactions
  • Structured games and activities
  • You will need to freeze activities at key points to ask questions, comment on the skills and identify strategies on how to fix the situation. 

example ways of teaching emotional regulation

Having practiced the steps associated with an interaction, the individual is more likely to be comfortable in the real life situation. 

As the individual  develops their skills and becomes confident, minimize your assistance so that they can carry out the skill as independently as possible.

When first learning a new skill, the individual needs feedback and specific encouragement on their efforts to continue using the skill. Filling your interactions with positive statements and providing a positive environment is a big step towards building your individual ’s self-esteem. 

Always remember to support the individual ’s learning by providing positive encouragement and praise.

examples of positive encouragement to use when teaching emotional regulation

Phase 4: Promote generalisation

Generalisation programming should be considered from the start and become a part of the skill instruction program. The goal at this stage of instruction is for the individual to use the skills they have learned in a variety of situations, helping them build satisfying relationships with others.

It is important to provide opportunities for the individual  to use newly acquired skills with a number of different settings, people, situations and times. The effectiveness of the skills and strategies can then be informally gauged in terms of how  well the individual  can adapt these skills into their everyday life settings. They can be motivated by their successes, and the joy they experience in developing relationships. This then promotes further building of their skills. 

Taking CHARGE of my Rainbow of Emotions and the Rainbow of Emotions app

The facilitator's guide and workbook titled Taking CHARGE of my Rainbow of Emotions  helps the individual (children, adolescents and adults) develop emotional regulation skills. Accompanying the book is the Rainbow of Emotions App: Teaching Emotional Regulation Skills Step By Step (www.rainbowofemotions.app) aims to help individuals (children, adolescents and adults) identify, express and manage their emotions in a healthy, safe, and socially acceptable way. It is a web based app that can be use on the PC, laptop, tablet or phone.

The app allows you to personalise the CHARGE toolkit by including tools the individual already uses and work for them, add select tools from the library provided in the app. For each tool the app you can choose the colour, picture, sound and name for each tool. 

A rainbow is an arch made up of different coloured parallel lines that forms in the sky in special circumstances. Residing within each one of us is our very own Rainbow of Emotions, where each colour of the rainbow represents a different emotion. In the app you can set up two types of rainbows. One rainbow to represent physical emotions such as hungry, thirsty, tired or pain and another rainbow to represent negative emotions such as angry, worried, sad or jealous. For each rainbow the app helps the individual discover and design their own rainbow of emotions.

You can choose the colour, picture, sound and name with the individual for each line in the rainbow to identify and express their emotions.  Help the individual learn how to recognise the symptoms of the different feelings they are experiencing and label them accurately.

Once set up, you can use the app you can then coach the individual through the four phases of teaching emotional regulation discussed earlier.

Positive Behaviour Support Resources and Services

Everything parents, educators and professionals need to help children of all ages learn positive ways of behaving and managing emotions so that they can be happier, healthier and reach their full potential.

Behaviour Help is a registered NDIS provider.

Ask Dolly

Since you’re here, you probably have questions and concerns. I am Dolly Bhargava, am here to help. I am a NDIS registered behaviour support practitioner and speech pathologist.

I have worked in a number of settings for over 21 years so, how can I help?

Please tell me what is worrying you right now and I will do my best to recommend resources and/or services that will be most useful to you in your situation.

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