Emotion control for kids using self regulating strategies

by | Jan 3, 2018 | Blogs, Others

Emotion control for kids using self regulating strategies

Managing emotions for kids is a question many parents ask as they want their children to be successful. Using effective parenting techniques consistently, including self regulation strategies, are the core to raising resilient children. There are a lot of different emotion control strategies you can add to your toolbox. Here is one I used successfully to help a child control his tantrum behavior in addition to helping his parents.

Watch the vlog for more information about emotion regulation exercises.

I received a referral for a family who had problems with their 11-year-old child. He was often upset and angry and would have outbursts that frequently resulted in damaged property in the home.

When I met the family they were calm but the parents reported they felt restricted by what they could do because of his reactions. After evaluating the family dynamics I began working with both the parents and the child in different ways.

I worked with his parents on specific parenting skills like establishing set rules and expectations, communicating effectively, effective consequences, and praising their child when he did things well.

With the child we worked on controlling his physiological responses to stimuli. I observed that when this youth became angry or upset his breathing would become heavy. We worked initially on breathing techniques. These included things like: taking deeper breaths, counting downward from five in between breaths, closing his eyes and using imagery.

After that we began using the pulse oximeter. This device is used in medical clinics and hospitals to measure a person’s oxygen intake. You can purchase one online or at a pharmacy for around twenty dollars. You can also find apps that do the same thing on a phone but it is recommended you get a dedicated pulse oximeter as it is more reliable.I first modeled how to use it. He was able to see my oxygen measurement when I was sitting and still. We then measured his rate at that state. We did this three times during the day to get a consistent number. This gave us a baseline number we could use to reference his calm state. We then established a safe zone. A range of numbers a little above and below that number that would help the child gauge the degree of stress he felt. This allowed the number to fluctuate and allow for change to happen within a range.

He was given the assignment to use it throughout the day at specific times. Once when when he returned home from school. Once before dinner and then once before his bedtime. He was also required to check his pulse when his parents asked him.

I worked with the parents to determine when would be best to use this technique and they stated anytime they asked him to do something he would react. Before they asked him to do something, they had him use the pulse oximeter. He would first get to the resting number state before they asked him to do something. Using the technique of Preventive Teaching also helped ease the way for their child to accept feedback and correction. The parents were also taught to evaluate if their child was escalating during the interaction, and, if so, to use Effective Praise to help bring the number down by focusing on the things he was doing well. The goal, for both parent and child, was to interact but keep the number in a safe range.


There are multiple benefits to using the pulse oximeter to help your child. First, it helps a child and parent determine what is causing negative responses. Second, it gives the child a goal to focus on during an interaction, and third, the child can physically see they have some control over how they respond to those stressors.

The third benefit is perhaps the most beneficial. It is empowering for children to feel like they can control their environment. Many times acting out is as a manifestation of a child feeling out of control and seeking to gain control of a situation. This self regulation technique works with a child in the opposite way by suggesting to the child they can be in control without acting out.

We we worked on this technique in the home with the family, he started using it at school. Working with his teacher he was able to monitor himself throughout the day.

Important considerations

  • Parent’s should model how to use the pulse oximeter with their child. This helps the child understand how to do it.
  • Use the pulse oximeter during discussions to monitor how emotions and responses are changing. When there is an elevation in mood, work with your child to return to your baseline calm state.
  • Warning: Do NOT give your child an expensive electronic item to monitor their pulse. In their frustration the item may be damaged.

This technique was successful for this family and child. I heard from them a few years later and they reported they still use the pulse oximeter technique when needed. The young man did not need it as much but it was a game change for their family when he did. Of course, the most important aspect of using this technique is that his parents also implemented effective parenting strategies with their child in addition to this approach. This included using praise, communication, rewards, consequences and consistency with rules and expectations. All these skills can be found within Smarter Parenting.

I have since used emotional regulation actives with other families and children with many reporting success by using this technique.

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