By Wendy Elliott, M.A., LCMHC
Parenting a child or teen who learns differently is a challenging task. You want to support your child’s academic success yet it is difficult when, no matter what you do, it seems that it is not enough. Don’t give up, you’re not alone. And remember, you have a choice about how to motivate your child, help them calm down, complete a task, or focus on the job at hand.
Kids with learning challenges are often more sensitive to their environment than the rest of us. Because of this, they can easily become overwhelmed and just as easily, bored. As a parent of a child with learning challenges, one of your most common concerns is what to do when your child overreacts to not getting what they want. In these situations, you can help your child to identify and understand their emotions so that they can regulate their reactions when they don’t get what they want. Supporting them in deepening their self-awareness empowers you both, and it is the precursor to healthy emotional self-regulation. Let’s discuss.
Emotional self-regulation is essential for all of us. Most broadly, it is understood as the ability to control our emotions and impulses. When we self-regulate we don’t allow ourselves to become too angry or jealous, and are able to contain impulsive or careless decisions. We think before we act.
Promoting self-awareness and self-regulation in our kids begins with our selves. Our children learn more from what we do than what we say and we are powerful role models in ways we can never completely understand. How much of the time are we reacting to our kids with frustration, irritation, and annoyance? If we bring awareness to the moments when we are stressed, if we can learn to take a breath before responding to our child, then they are far more likely to learn this skill on their own.
Supporting emotional self-regulation in our children takes time, consistency, patience, and a few strategies.
Consistency is paramount. Follow through on what you say and follow a routine. Creating structures for your child will create an inner sense of security and ease, empowering them to meet expectations and be successful.
Establish simple and predictable rituals for meals, homework, play, and bed. Have your child lay out clothes for the next morning before going to bed, and make sure that whatever he or she needs to take to school is in a special place, ready to grab.
Using clocks and timers can also help your child feel more at ease and in control of their environment, and therefore, emotions. Consider placing clocks throughout the house, perhaps you put a large one in your child’s bedroom. Allow enough time for what your child needs to do, such as homework or getting ready in the morning. Use a timer for homework or transitional times, such as between finishing up play and getting ready for bed.
Defining specific spaces for different purposes can enhance your child’s ability to self soothe. Create a special, tranquil place for your child to retreat to and rest when they feel overwhelmed. If you already have a “time out” space as part of your routine, make sure that this tranquil space is in a different location and not associated with punishment. Nature can serve as this space, and regardless provides an invaluable resource for children with learning challenges.
Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, completed research at the University of Illinois demonstrating that children’s interaction with the natural environment plays an important role in their development. Being in nature will help your child build their problem-solving and critical thinking skills. It will also foster their creativity and self-confidence. Louv’s research also indicates that exposure to nature was shown to decrease ADHD symptoms. Finding ways to limit our children’s exposure to electronic media is hugely important; instead of TV time, why not go for an outdoor exploration. This will result in your child being more capable of focusing, self-soothing, and emotional self-regulation.
Here in the Ojai Valley, we are blessed with an abundance of nature. As we seek to help our children cultivate a sense of emotional balance, we can look out the window, take a deep breath, and bring awareness to the fact that we have a choice in how we support and motivate our children.
Wendy Elliott, M.A. is a licensed clinical mental health counselor who also holds a master’s degree in organizational leadership. Wendy has worked extensively in the field of counseling/psychology, helping individuals and their families find greater balance, emotional self-regulation, and healing. As a teacher, consultant, and administrator in the field of higher education, she holds a special interest in kids and teens with learning challenges. For a number of years, Wendy worked as Dean of Student Programs and Community Development at Landmark College in Putney, Vermont. In this role, she had the opportunity to support and inspire young adults who have a variety of learning challenges such as dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and non-verbal learning disability (NVD). She created programs empowering these students to take on leadership roles that fostered their self-knowledge, communication skills, and ability to complete and celebrate accomplishments. Wendy has a private practice in Ojai and also teaches graduate students in the Counseling/ Psychology program at Antioch University Santa Barbara. You can find out more about her services by visiting her website at https://www.wemindbodyspirit.com/.