All children need practice at regulating their emotions. For those on the autism spectrum, this is often especially challenging. Fortunately, methods to help children manage emotions have been devised and can make things easier for both the child and caregivers.
Start Early to Help Children Manage Emotions
At Opal Autism Services, it is believed that children should have individualized educational and social experiences starting early in life. Their preschool program uses positive reinforcement to bring out desired behaviors and lay the foundation for further development which can help children manage emotions. This includes teaching and rewarding good, age-appropriate emotional responses to events and experiences.
Managing Emotions at Home
There are many things you can do to help children manage emotions and regain control of their feelings at home during challenging situations. It starts with an understanding and empathy for what challenges the child is facing, as well as the differences in how autistic children process emotions.
Most children, autistic or not, do not listen to reason when they are upset. In fact, many adults have trouble with this! Therefore, you shouldn’t try to reason away the problem while a child is crying or otherwise acting out. Instead, communicate on a simple, emotional basis. Remind the child that the negative feelings are just that, and that they will soon pass. Some suggest comparing them to a storm. This acknowledges the reality of the emotions and provides validation while also reassuring the child that the negative feelings won’t last forever.
Give Advice When the Child is Calm
When they are fully calm, this is the time to help children manage emotions by giving them advice. Even though much of the advice will be forgotten the next time the child is upset, it will stick over time and form a basis for better emotional handling later on.
Help Children Manage Emotions Long-Term
Difficulties with emotions are one of the hallmarks of the autism spectrum, and these difficulties can be lifelong. Comparing the child to other kids their age or otherwise communicating that they are inadequate will only add sadness and frustration to an already negative experience. This will make any meltdown worse, as well as cause long-lasting emotional damage.
Help Children Recognize and Verbalize Emotions
Help children manage emotions by pointing out how they seem–such as happy or anxious, and give them clear reasons why you think so. For example, if the kid is smiling and laughing, give those as reasons for your assessment of happiness.
Do this for other people the child sees as well, such as people on TV or at family gatherings. Over time, the child may learn to vocalize negative emotions instead of acting them out. Make sure not to respond negatively if your child says they are furious (or otherwise in a “bad” mood), or they may learn that such things are not really supposed to be spoken of and go back to demonstrating them instead.
Help Children Manage Emotions with a Therapist
The right therapist will come equipped with effective methods to help children manage emotions, especially in the case of childhood neurodivergence. A therapist that uses uplifting methods and positive reinforcement is best in the long term since the child is more likely to grow up confident and emotionally healthy.
A therapist who is focused on autism will understand that the standard charts for age-related development do not apply. Instead, each child is different and needs to have a flexible, individualized plan to address their unique needs. An educated professional can then devise and execute a plan tailored to your child specifically.
Accept That No Child Is Always Calm
No child (or adult) is always calm. Even those who are not on the spectrum sometimes have tantrums, start shouting, and otherwise act out on strong, negative emotions. Accept that a certain amount of this is normal, and even healthy, human behavior. Instead of aiming for a child who always acts calm and happy, make it your goal to help children manage emotions by showing when a strong response is appropriate and what form that response should take.
Right Environments to Help Children Manage Emotions
School will take up most of a child’s time from about age 5 through 17, and often longer. Preschool is an important social option that may add to the number of years spent in these outside environments. Extreme care should be taken to be sure your child is exposed to teaching methods for healthy development that help children manage emotions.
Opal Autism Centers provide autism therapy starting in specialized preschool environments. These environments look like regular preschools but feature one-on-one instruction and therapy that is meant to put your child on a better life trajectory. Opal Autism Centers also offer additional therapy options so that unique challenges can be met.
To learn more about Opal Autism Centers or set up a free consultation, contact us. Opal has several locations in North Carolina, as well as one in Boise, ID, to serve you and your child.