If you are a therapist working with kids you probably help at least a few with emotional regulation skills.
This blog will quickly review emotional regulation, co-regulation and conclude with a simple technique.
What is emotional regulation?
Emotional regulation is how we manage our feelings. It has been described as:
“The process by which individuals influence which emotions they have, when they have them, and how they experience and express their feelings. “
“Emotional regulation can be automatic or controlled, conscious or unconscious..”Gross, 1998, p. 275 (1).
What is interesting about this statement is that it addresses the unconscious emotional reactions we have.
These reactions can be influenced by many factors. See our last post on the Fear Paralysis Reflex and how reflex integration can be connected to anxiety.
As therapists, we talk to the unconscious responses using physical, body-based activities with our kids.
This can include sensory integration strategies, diaphragmatic breathing, rhythmic movement or reflex integration to name a few techniques.
Another way we can influence the way we feel is by building conscious control over our emotions.
This can look like teaching children to emotionally respond instead of react.
It also includes giving kids language to express themselves and teaching them calming techniques.
“A child who is out of control needs the calm reassurance of someone who is in control.”– Carol Kranowitz
First of all, in order to help the kids that we see we as adults need to put the oxygen mask on first.
Yes that often over-stated term. You need to take care of you blah blah blah.
But seriously if we expect kids to eventually calm down in an emotionally-heated moment they need an anchor.
What is Co-Regulation?
Co-Regulation can be described as an emotional connection between two people that is “bidirectional” and “contributes to emotional stability for both partners.” (1)
How can we do that if we are coming from a stressed state ourselves?
No you don’t need to be perfect about it. But you can help yourself and others with some physical emotional regulation techniques.
This activity is so easy it can be learned and used in under ONE MINUTE.
Using it helps with the unconscious emotional regulation and can be used as a conscious tool as well.
I just used it in the grocery store the other day and was glad I had something so easy at my disposal to help me calm down.
Thymus Thumps AKA Tarzan Taps
Have you ever noticed that when you get scared that afterwards, you may dramatically tap yourself on your chest and take a deep breath?
Perhaps you even sigh audibly, “fwew!”
This is an unconscious emotional regulation technique.
Connecting to this acupressure point has been used as a complementary health practice to calm down the nervous system by connecting to the vagus nerve.
Connecting with this nerve can speak to the entire nervous system as the nerve gives information back to the brain.
This nerve has been called the “wandering” nerve for its reaches to the far reaches of the body. (3)
Additionally the location point for this technique is right over the organ called the thymus. This organ creates immune factors in the body to fight off pathogens. (3)
Benefits of this technique are:
- Connecting with the body and decreasing the severity of intense emotions.
- Assisting with managing fears and worries.(2)
- Anchoring beliefs to the body as an optional daily practice.
How to do Thymus Thumps (Tarzan Taps):
- Find the middle of the breast bone that starts right under your throat.
- Tap lightly on this point with the pads of your finger or with a lightly closed fist.
- Take three deep breaths while you tap lightly.
K-27 taps (Gorilla Thumps)
This additional point can be used in addition to thymus thumps for more energy and alertness.
- Find the K-27 points by placing two hands on your collar bone and moving below them about an inch.
- Tap with both hands.
- Take three deep breaths.
Bonus: repeat to yourself out loud new affirmations or beliefs while you tap.
For example, think of what qualities you would like to embody more in your life. This could be courage, gratitude, joy etc. and repeat an affirmation to yourself while you tap e.g. “I am gratitude” or “ I am safe.”
I use Gorilla thumps with kids when we pretend to be gorillas beating our chests in the jungle.
When I do this with kids in a playful setting, I do not emphasize that the movement is “gentle.” That can come later when they get the hang of it.
Seattle's Children's Hospital recommends using these three points “in the morning and anytime in the day you need it.”
Since these techniques can be alerting I would not recommend using them close to bedtime.
There will be a certain point at which this technique is no longer helpful for anxiety. When someone is in a full blown meltdown or having a panic attack , it is NOT a time to use this technique.
Did you try this activity? More importantly notice how it feels after doing it for a few weeks?
Hopefully you are able to feel a little more courage as you practice.
If you would like to learn more about teaching emotional regulation. indicate that you are interested in a class below.
There is also a monkey-themed activity coming out soon for emotional regulation so subscribe BELOW for OT goodies and activities.
1) Gross, James J. (ed.) (2007). Handbook of Emotion Regulation. Guilford Press.
2) Seattle Children’s Hospital Family Resources (2019) https://www.seattlechildrens.org/pdf/PE2256.pdf
3) Standring S, Gray H, eds. (2016). Gray's Anatomy: The Anatomical Basis of Clinical Practice (41st ed.). Philadelphia. pp. 983–6. ISBN 9780702052309. OCLC 92080654
You and patient's needs are unique so be sure to check with your respective healthcare providers before you act and rely on this information. This information is not meant to replace medical advice or medical care.