A sight of a child melting down is not truly desirable. An adult’s impulse might to firmly tell the child to simply stop, however, that’s not simply the case on their end too. Some kids, especially those with Autism, may find it a challenge to self-regulate when overwhelmed with big emotions. They would definitely need some help to go back to their green zone of calm state.
One of the co-regulation strategies that teaches children to self-regulate over time is called emotion coaching, developed by Dr. Adele Lafrance Robinson and Dr. Joanne Dolhanty. Emotion coaching is a component of EFFT, a brand-new, cutting-edge therapy program for parents and carers of kids who are dealing with a range of mental health concerns and difficulties with emotional regulation. Emotion-Focused Family Therapy is referred to as EFFT.
An effective emotion coaching involves the following steps:
- Attend to the emotion.
This means acknowledging that something is wrong, or there has been a change in their emotional state.
(E.g. “I can see that something’s up” or “Whoa, something just happened”)
- Name the emotion.
Describing or naming the emotions that the child is experiencing doesn’t only just help them develop their emotional vocabulary, but it also helps in letting them connecting their emotions to body sensations. Most of all, it makes them feel seen and understood.
E.g. “I can see you’re feeling upset right now” or “You look disappointed.”
- Validate the emotion.
This is the most important part of the process as children need to feel validated or understood. You don’t necessarily agree with the behaviour, but their feelings or emotions are a whole different thing. Putting ourselves in the shoes of the child’s and empathize with them on how they are experiencing it would matter a lot. Accepting, allowing and validating emotions does not automatically equate to accepting or allowing inappropriate behaviour. However, the behaviour can be addressed later on when they are in a more calm state and more emotionally stable.
E.g. “It makes sense that you feel angry because you can’t take your favourite toy yet, and you really wanted to play with it already.”
- Meet the Need of the Emotion
Children need help in getting through the emotion and it doesn’t mean they have to be given what they wanted or have something be fixed for them. At times, adults just need to learn how to tolerate uncomfortable feelings until they pass.
The need varies according to what the child’s emotion is.
Sadness needs comfort.
Fear needs safety, security and assurance.
Anger needs patience and boundaries.
Being proactive and seeing the situation outside of the box will help us to be active contributors of solution, instead of exhausting both ourselves and the child.
You see, meltdowns are just episodes, not a child’s character.