We were recently joined by Susan Brooks, Educational and Child Psychologist, who led a workshop on Understanding and Supporting Emotional Regulation covering:

  • The impact of Sensory Processing
  • Arousal levels and Anxiety
  • Understanding our own emotional regulation and
  • Helpful strategies for supporting our children

Susan went through so much useful information! She started the workshop by talking about what emotional regulation is and why it is necessary. She stressed that all emotions serve a purpose and are helpful. Emotional regulation isn’t about suppressing or denying emotions both negative and positive, but about being able to use them to react and respond in appropriate and socially acceptable ways. Self-regulation – the holy grail of emotional regulation – is when we are able to do this for ourselves.

Self-regulation is something we can learn, but it can take a long time (often it is a life long process) and is dependent on many factors such as genetics, maturity, support and context – some people may be able to regulate in an empty room but not in an empty corridor for example.

Examples of how we learn to self-regulate include co-regulation, helping children through strategies when they are upset, use of words to express emotions and modelling self-calming strategies. Many of us emotionally regulate consciously or unconsciously using tactics such as going for a walk/run, listening to music, having a cup of tea or a glass of wine etc. The key is that the ability to self-regulate develops in the context of social relationships. It’s development is dependent on effective “co-regulation” by parents and caregivers and certain ‘protective factors’ such as a stable environment.

Hyper-arousal where we may be anxious, angry, hyperviglient; The Window of Tolerance which is where we are able to emotionally regulate and Hypo-arousal where we may be shut down, depressed or withdrawn for example.

Susan talked a lot about the impact of Sensory Processing Issues and that our tactile (touch), vestibular (balance) and proprioceptive (awareness of our bodies in relation to the rest of the world) senses are the powerhouses for emotional regulation. She took us through many calming and alerting strategies for all the different senses. 

Calming strategies tend to have many characteristics in common such as being slow, soothing, rhythmic, predictable and low demand. Alerting strategies are more unpredictable, quick paced and executed at a higher intensity for example.

Using a combination of calming or alerting strategies in relation to all our senses, but particularly the powerhouses above, can help us regulate. They can help us to relax and calm down or to be more alert and more energised depending what on what input our bodies needs at any particular point in time. They can also help us feel in tune with our body and feel more organised. Ultimately we are all seeking “just right” arousal where we are in our window of tolerance and feel the right amount of both calm and alert. Sensory diets and sensory circuits are particularly helpful here.

Susan then talked us through loads of strategies for helping our children. These included ‘teaching’ strategies such as how to read body signals, interventions for primary school learners such as modeling conflict resolution, or older learners such as coaching them on organisation skills and healthy stress management. She also highlighted some practical ways of supporting our children in learning to self-regulate such as labelling emotions, demonstrating self-talk to calm down, demonstrating deep breaths, and delaying gratification.

Some of the strategies Susan discussed

This was such an informative workshop, crammed with information with a lot of the chat at the end focused on tips and resources to help schools understand and support our children too.

Thanks ever so much that was super helpful

Thank you, another really informative session

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