Emotional Dysregulation in Children

Emotional dysregulation is a term used that refers to emotional responses that are poorly modulated and do not lie within the accepted range of emotive response in social situations such as school settings or at home. Possible manifestations of emotional dysregulation include frequent tearfulness, angry outbursts, or behavior outbursts such as throwing objects, and aggression towards self or others. Emotional dysregulation can lead to behavioral problems and can interfere with a person's social interactions and relationships at home or in school.

Research has shown that difficulties in emotional regulation may be related to the display of acting out, externalizing disorders, or behavior problems. When presented with challenging tasks, children who were found to have problems in emotional regulation spent less time attending to tasks, difficulty complying with requests from caregivers and were more defiant. Emotional dysregulation has also been associated with childhood social withdrawal. Common signs of emotional dysregulation in early childhood include refusing to speak, withdrawing, crying, high levels of anxiety, or inability to be flexible. Emotional dysregulation in children can also be associated with exhibiting emotions too intense for a situation, difficulty calming down when upset, difficulty decreasing negative affect/emotions, being less able to calm themselves, and becoming avoidant or aggressive when dealing with negative emotions. Sometimes children who struggle with the inner regulation of their emotions exhibit difficulty identifying emotional cues, difficulty controlling their attention, and being impulsive. 

In children, emotional dysregulation early on requires attention and intervention so as to prevent further challenges as the child grows older. Emotional dysregulation is usually a precursor or a preliminary symptom for other underlying difficulties and, therefore, comprehensive evaluations are required to examine underlying reasons that can be contributing to the internal dysregulation. For instance, some children may have executive functioning issues or attentional, learning or language challenges that cause frustration and emotional reactions. While Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the most widely prescribed treatment for these challenges, a psychotherapy approach which promotes the use of mindfulness also helps to emphasize the importance of validation and maintaining healthy behavioral habits.