Implement a Regulation Schedule
Some of the most common times for fits, meltdowns, defiance and whining are during transitions. From sleep to ready for school, from play to mealtime, from awake to bedtime…oh and homework. Even transitions during their day at school can be rough: from art to math, from recess to schoolwork. You don’t realize how many transitions there are during a day until you have a kid who DOES NOT like transitions. It can feel endless with the constant re-directions, fits, and arguments.
One more approach that can help is creating a regulation schedule. For kids who struggle with transitions, one of the best things you can do is make life as predictable as humanly possible. And when you can’t: frontload, frontload, frontload. No surprises. Have the schedule posted somewhere they can see it, verbally remind them, maybe even practice what it’s going to look like. If you have to switch up the schedule for the dentist appointment, remind them what it’s like to go, or maybe play dentist at home leading up to the appointment. Make it fun! Between a schedule change and doing something they don’t want to do, it’s a prime time for challenging behaviors. So along with giving them a heads up about what they can expect, help them stay calm before the behaviors happen.
Frontloading + regulation is the sweet spot. Regulation refers to activities that help calm the brain and help keep the brain calm. So the point of a regulation schedule is keeping the brain calm throughout the day rather than waiting to respond until after they lose it.
Many homes and classrooms have a regulation box. “Fidgets” are all the rage these days, which are great for some, but I’ve also worked with kids who like chewing, so they use “chewlary”. Bouncy bands at the kitchen table or at their desk at school can be great. Kids who are sensory seeking through their vestibular system (inner ear system—these kids like swinging, when you flip them over, or maybe they’re calm in the car) may like a T-stool. Coloring can be very calming, as is deep breathing (blowing bubbles, pinwheels), stretching, weighted blankets and vests, fuzzy blankets, hot tea, certain scents and music, hanging out in a tent. Kids with ADHD need to burn energy, so channeling that through bouncy bands, dance breaks, or Breath of Joy (googleable), might be the trick. Just keep in mind that after they burn a little energy, they might need helping coming back down. Pair activating activities with calming activities. Regulation is NOT a one size fits all approach. Not every kid likes fidget spinners—I don’t, but I would have loved a T-stool.
Figure out what works for your kid. I worked with one girl who sat on her stool, spinning in circles, while reading her book, chewing on her chewlary. The house parents told me it was the longest they had ever seen her sit still. It sounds like a migraine waiting to happen to me, but it worked for her and she was the only kid I have ever met who regulated that way. What works for your kid? It might be some trial and error, but once you figure it out, implement those activities throughout their day to help them STAY regulated. Have a regulation box at home, in the car, and some items in their backpack. Frontload them that they’re going to regulate when they get home from school, before dinner, and before bed. Regulation might look different at each of those times. You’ll see that some of the activities are great for staying on task while others help them get sleepy.
It might sound like a lot and at first it probably will be (see how I’m frontloading you? Let me also warn you that what they like will likely change from day to day, week to week, or month to month). But if you can figure out what works for your kid and get them on a regular schedule, many of you will be golden.
I say “many” because I need to front load you on a couple more things. Some kids will not want to regulate. And if they don’t, I suspect they have a trauma history. Kids who have experienced abuse, who have witnessed domestic violence, or were generally in unsafe or chaotic environments are often in a constant state of hypervigilance. These kids can flip on a dime. They throw things, kick walls/people/anything within their reach. They go from 0-100 in a split second. They live day-in-day-out in their limbic system. That’s where our fear response lives too. They are in a constant state of fear. You know what isn’t safe in a violent environment? Letting your guard down. You know what that means? They will refuse to calm their system. To them, it’s not safe and it’s going to feel all wrong to calm their brain. For these kids, you are going to have to communicate to them, what feels like a million times, that they’re safe now. It’s not their job to keep themselves safe anymore. That’s what mom, dad, and good teacher are for.
“We got you, kid. We love you.”
That fit you’re seeing is a survival mechanism—be thankful for the purpose it served, have compassion for the state of fear they’re living in, and keep loving them.
Lastly, for these kids, they will likely need therapeutic services like play therapy, music therapy, EMDR, or neurofeedback. They need help getting out of their fear system and therapy can help do that, but it has to be the right therapy. Check out our page on developmental trauma for more information.
*bouncy bands, T-stools, weighted blanket/vests/lap blankets based on your child’s size, and chelwlery can all be found online.
*The information contained herein is not therapeutic advice nor a substitute for therapy. It should not be used to diagnose or treat any mental health problem. If you are located within the United States and you need emergency assistance please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. If you are located within Colorado you may also call the Colorado Crisis Line at 844-493-TALK (8255).