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How To Take the Emotional Temperature of your Child

Self RegulateBuilding Self Regulatory Skills in your Child:

Taking the emotional temperature of your child will save you a lot of stress when it comes to managing your child’s huge feelings. Your child is still developing the skills to self regulate and they need a lot of support from you.

This is first done after a lengthy separation such as: Bedtime (if you and your child sleep apart then this is considered for this purpose as a separation), School Day, Overnight/weekend with friends/family.

Below are some tips for taking the emotional temperature of your child:

Step 1: Reception

  • Just prior to seeing your child take your own emotional temperature. How are you feeling? Are you at rest (calm and steady heartbeat, clear thoughts, normal breathing, feeling ready/prepared, and/or happy)
    • If yes then great your ready to tackle whatever your child brings to you.
    • If No then you need some additional work-Grounding yourself works best. If you don’t feel at rest, whether you feel angry, frustrated, overwhelmed anxious etc, how do you handle that? Are you ready for whatever your child brings you? If not then try these grounding techniques:
    • Identify how you are feeling.
        1. Is your heart beating fast or slow?
        2. How fast is your mind going? Is it racing or is it empty?
      1. Open your eyes and look at the room you are in.
        1. What do you hear?
        2. What do you see?
        3. What do you smell?
        4. What do you taste?
        5. What do you (physically feel)?
      2. Inhale slow and steady, exhale slow and steady
      3. Rub your fingers together.
      4. Feel your feet on the ground.
      5. Is your heart beating fast or slow?
      6. How fast is your mind going? Is it racing or is it empty?
  • How does your Child look? Pay attention to non-verbals. Is she at rest (happy/content) or is she in a state of unrest (upset/anxious)?
    • At Rest: is she making eye contact, smiling, laughing, easy to engage
    • Unrest/Upset: is she quiet, withdrawn, complaining/whining, difficult to engage with, argumentative, defiant, resistant, low energy/high energy (that is out of the norm)

Step 2: Reflection

  • Then comment on what you see (helping her to identify her affective state).
    • At rest comments examples include: “You look calm/happy. You look well rested”. “You must have had a good time/slept well”
    • At unrest/upset comment examples include: “You look anxious/upset/tired/sad/angry” (your reflecting). “You must not have slept well/had a good visit” (again reflecting not questioning. If you pose a question don’t expect answer or push. An example is, “Did something happen?” (open-ended question with concern in your voice as opposed to all ready knowing/pushy/demanding.)
  • Check your affect! If she is at rest then match it. Don’t over do it but it’s ok to under do it. If she is in a state of unrest then your going to have to lower your excited energy or slightly elevate your unrested energy. This is not a must but it’s something to play around with.

Step 3: Resources

  • Invite/Encourage her to tell her story and likewise you be prepared to share yours.
    • At rest you can ask questions such as: “How did you sleep? How was your day? Are you looking forward to anything”. If she does not respond (because questions can be overwhelming, then you model for her by talking about yourself. “I slept well/or didn’t sleep well. Today I am looking forward to _____. My day was great/not great because_______. I am currently feeling _____ because of ______I think I will do ________(fill in with positive resource such as listening to music, singing, praying, reading etc) You can even make this future oriented for example “After I get you guys off to school I think I will attend church/talk to someone supportive/read/etc). The idea here is matching feelings to behaviors to a resource. Your modeling how to use your higher level of thinking to manage your lower level behaviors
    • If your child is in a state of unrest/unpset then your affect is one of concern. Examples are: “how are you feeling, you look _______(frustrated, tired, anxious, sad, angry, etc). If she doesn’t want to talk about it you can say, which is quite common, then you can switch to modeling by saying: “I understand you don’t want to share right now. When I’m upset I usually need a little bit of a breather before I can talk with others. So when your ready I’m here to listen. In the meantime would you like to (give two options, one of something you can do together [co-regulation] and one she can do alone).
      • Example of this is: Come watch tv with me/go for a walk with me/lay down and listen to music with me/etc or 2. Would you want to take a bath/listen to music/call your friend/read/etc (anything not eating unless its gum/mints because gum/mints can be regulating but wont affect their appetite).The key is your helping them to identify a positive resource they can use to alleviate their distress.
      • Check in with them every 10-20 minutes depending on your child, whether they are alone or they are with you. Here you continue to reflect and attune.
        • Example: (voice of concern) “you still look kind of upset it must of been a big deal what happened at school/bad dream/etc.” Allow her to comment. If no comment or she says, “no” and/or “I don’t want to talk about it” then you say “I understand and its ok. You want to keep watching tv? (mutual activity) or “do you want to go do _______” (a solo activity).
        • If she shares then remove distractions and listen. Validate her experience and don’t try to problem solve or calm her down. If shes getting too worked up then offer her a resource (and inform her why) but let her vent. People really need to feel heard and validated even if you don’t agree or see the problem another way. We all have our own perceptions and filters and at times, especially while developing the filter can be distorted.
        • Throughout this process your accessing her emotional temperature but not necessarily commenting on it. When she see her return to a rested state then you are able to access her higher level of thinking.
            • Here you comment on the changes such as, “venting must’ve really helped. I am so glad we could talk about what was bothering you and find a solution and now you feel better. Or even wow you were so worked up and you used ______resource and you look like feel much more rested/better”

          *Your teaching her the difference between different affective states which is key for her to be able to move in and out of different affective states and increase her ability to use executive functioning when triggered
          **This skill is very hard to teacher, especially for a child who has experienced complex trauma or any child who is highly sensitive to internal and external stimuli.
          ***Be patient and persistent. You will not get it right 100% of the time and that’s ok because part of what your teaching your child is how to deal with adverse experiences. The key is helping them to access their resources so they can internalize and manage their own affective states.

 

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Jessica Lang

Jessica Lang

Hi I'm Jessica and I am passionate about empowering survivors to find peace, happiness, and success in life. I specialize in treating trauma using the mind body connection and helping expats who are having a hard time adjusting to life in their new countries.