How do I help my Autistic child regulate their emotions?

How do I help my Autistic child regulate their emotions?

“How do I help my Autistic child regulate their emotions?”

One of the most common questions we get. Self-regulation is a BIG ask for ANY child. Let alone a sensitive Autistic one. So maybe we need to look at it differently.

First, we need to know why. Not: Why won’t they self-regulate? But: Why do you want them to? What’s the goal here? It shouldn’t be “to bother the adults around them less” or to make them more “manageable”.

Yes, it’s important to teach our kids that others have boundaries and needs too. But first and foremost, self-regulation should benefit the child themself.

Second, we need to look at what self-regulation is. It doesn’t mean to suppress how we feel. Kids have BIG feelings and that’s okay. Self-regulation doesn’t have to mean a quiet child. Crying, screaming, running, punching can be forms of self-regulation. Self-regulation skills give us awareness of and agency over our situation.

So how do we support our kids?

Of course, self-regulation doesn’t come out of nowhere. And it’s a bit overrated, really. We are social beings, so we co-regulate. Adults too. Last time you called a friend to cry on their shoulder? You co-regulated.

Self-regulation isn’t more advanced than co-regulation. It’s okay to rely on others. Self-regulation just gives us extra tools for when that’s not an option.

Autistic kids are sensitive kids and pick up on your mood, whether you can see it or not. This means, you need to make sure that you are calm before trying to help them regulate. If you’re stressed out, so are they.

There’s no one-fits-all technique of self- or co-regulation. Different people need different things at different times. It’s best to explore some social and sensory strategies with the child and keep them available to choose from when they are feeling safe. Sometimes we seek input through stimming or social contact. And sometimes we just want to be in a quiet room. It’s not a good time to figure these things out when your child is already in crisis.

Autistics often struggle with naming our emotions or knowing what they feel like in our bodies. Especially if you aren’t Autistic yourself, you need to learn with your child. Pay close attention to their verbal and non-verbal cues. They might be different from yours. But it’s vital that kids have their emotions validated and mirrored to develop an understanding of what’s going on. Autistic kids so often lack this opportunity. It can be helpful to do regular body scan activities. Where do you feel anger in your body? Where do you feel sadness or happiness? What does it feel like?

When a child develops an understanding of how they feel, they need a way to communicate it. They need to know that it’s safe for them to advocate for their needs. If your child doesn’t (always) speak, they also need access to a robust AAC system.

Lastly, it shouldn’t be the child’s job to constantly stay ‘regulated’. More often than not, it’s not the child that’s disregulated but their environment. Adapt their social and sensory environment to suit their needs wherever possible.

For more tips on parenting your Autistic child sign up for our Parenting Your Autistic Child on demand course with all Autistic presenters

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