How to Improve Emotional Regulation Among Children with Autism and ADHD

What is Emotional Regulation and Why is it Important?

Emotional regulation is an individual’s ability to effectively manage and respond to a situation that might provoke emotions such as stress, anxiety, annoyance, anger, and frustration.

A person with strong emotional regulation skills can:

  • Notice when they become emotionally charged.
  • Consider the consequences of their responses.
  • Engage in activities that move them toward their goal or reward, even if they are feeling negative emotions.

A person who lacks emotional regulation skills may:

  • Overreact to situations when compared to same age peers.
  • Experience negative emotions for longer amounts of time.
  • Have a short temper and engage in emotional outbursts.
  • Have mood swings.


Teaching Emotional Regulation Skills
  • Help Children Understand Different Feelings/Emotions: Create a visual aid that depicts different emotions that a child may feel. It is a good idea to allow the child to pick the emotions they want on their chart and to allow them to create a picture for each.
Emotional Level
Feeling Good
A Little Upset
Very Upset
  • Teach Children to Assign Emotions to Certain Situations:
    Ask the child to write down or draw different situations that might make them feel certain emotions. Alternatively, present a scenario and ask the child how that would make them feel. For example, ask the child how they feel when they cannot figure out an answer on their homework assignment and instruct him or her to fill in the blank space next to the corresponding emotion.
Emotional Level
Feeling Good
A Little Upset
Upset I can't figure out an answer on my homework.
Very Upset I can't wear my favorite shirt.
  • Help Your Child Identify Appropriate Reactions to Different Scenarios: After the child has filled out the emotions they want to use and have identified specific scenarios related to each emotion, parents or caregivers can help them identify what should be treated as a big deal and what can be brushed off.
Emotional Level
Feeling Good
A Little Upset Should be here: I can't wear my favorite shirt.
Upset I can't figure out an answer on my homework.
Very Upset Move: I can't wear my favorite shirt.
  • Accept Your Child’s Emotions: For many different reasons, a child may not feel that it is acceptable to feel a certain way. One reason for this is they could be associating their worries or anger with times they have felt out of control or with times that they might have gotten in trouble. Therefore, they may feel uncomfortable acknowledging feelings that have been labeled “negative” in the past. Reflecting upon a child’s feelings can be extremely helpful and this can be done by saying things such as, “You look frustrated right now and I want you to know it is okay to feel frustrated” or “You look angry right now, do you want to take deep breaths or take some time alone?”
  • Teach Coping Strategies: Help children identify strategies they can use when they are feeling angry, frustrated, anxious, sad, or even happy. Practice these coping strategies by giving your child situations and role-play how to use their coping skills in the moment. Examples of coping skills are:
    • Deep breathing
    • Counting to 10
    • Walking Away
    • Talking to a trusted adult
    • Going outside
    • Listening to Music
    • Watching a funny video
    • Ask to continue a fun activity
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