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What does ‘dysregulation’ look like in kids?

Updated: Oct 16, 2023

Dysregulation in little kids is when you see difficulties in managing and controlling their emotions, behavior, and physiological responses.


Dysregulation can manifest in various ways, including:


1. Emotional outbursts: Children may have frequent and intense tantrums, often over minor triggers. They may cry, scream, shout, or become easily frustrated or angry. These emotional reactions may be disproportionate to the situation.


2. Impulsive behavior: Kids with dysregulation may have difficulty inhibiting or controlling their impulses. They may act without thinking, which can involve hitting, kicking, or throwing objects. They may also struggle with sharing or taking turns.


3. Hyperactivity: Some children with dysregulation may display excessive restlessness, fidgeting, or squirming. They may have difficulty staying seated for extended periods and constantly move around.


4. Difficulty with transitions: Moving from one activity to another can be challenging for children with dysregulation. They may resist changes in routine, have difficulties getting ready for school, or become upset when plans change unexpectedly. You might feel like it's a constant battle of emotions


5. Sensory sensitivity: Some kids may have heightened sensory sensitivity, where certain sounds, lights, textures, or smells can overwhelm them, triggering emotional dysregulation. They may become highly distressed, cover their ears, avoid specific situations, or have meltdowns.


6. Sleep disturbances: Children with dysregulation may struggle with falling asleep, staying asleep, or experiencing nightmares. This can result from difficulties in calming down their bodies and minds before bedtime.


7. Regression: Dysregulation can cause a regression in developmental skills. A child who was previously toilet trained may start having accidents again, or a child who was speaking in complete sentences may begin to use baby talk or lose previously learned words.


Keep in mind that dysregulation can look different for every child. Not all children display all of these areas.


When a child's ability to complete day to day tasks are hindered, you can reach out to an occupational therapist and discuss these concerns. We are trained to support children and families grow together.


Strategies to support your child's nervous system:

- Incorporate whole body movement tasks that engage the muscles of the body (e.g. lifting, pushing, pulling, carrying). When we start to use the larger muscles of the body, we can help the nervous system regulate.


- Activities can include: cleaning up their room, helping parents with bringing the grocery bags inside the home, playing outside on various terrains, pulling a wagon of toys (anything they have in the yard), building a fort outside or inside, going for a walk or bike ride, and/or helping the teacher prep the classroom by setting up chairs, tables, supplies, etc. There are lots of options and depends on what your child would be able to do and willing to try.


If you would like additional support or want a more tailored approach to support your child, feel free to reach out and inquire @ newleafoccupationaltherapy@gmail.com.


Thank you for taking the time to read.


Take a look at more blog posts on understanding behaviors, mealtimes, connection, and overall tips/strategies to support parents and children everyday here at newleafoccupationaltherapy.com


Jessica Earle

Occupational Therapist

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