Emotional Regulation and Exercise

Mar 5, 2022 | General, Learning, Support, Therapy

Some children struggle with self-regulation and most need assistance regulating their emotions at times. But don’t forget, emotional regulation is a learned skill and with your help, attention and practice, children can see big improvements.

So, what is emotional regulation?

“Emotional regulation is the ability to effectively manage and respond to an emotional experience. People unconsciously use emotion regulation strategies to cope with difficult situations many times throughout each day. When a child experiences dysregulation they can’t diffuse their negative emotions. These emotions can take control leading to over-the-top reactions, outbursts, or meltdowns. This is an extremely common challenge for kids who have Autism, ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, or other neurological differences.” (Nicole Day, 2017).

How does exercise help?

As adults we all know that exercise, even something as simple as going for a 20-minute walk, can help to calm us down when we feel stressed or upset. And of course, the same can work for kids!

So, here’s how it works…

When we become stressed our response is to produce high levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which in turn stimulates the production of adrenalin. An increase in cortisol and adrenalin can lead to an increase in anxiety, dysregulation, decreased communication, listening and social skills.

Exercise has been proven to reduce cortisol levels and increase dopamine and other endorphins which are hormones responsible for the feelings of calm and comfort. Basically, exercise puts the brain in a chemical state where it is better able to regulate emotions!
Less cortisol and more dopamine mean emotional regulation is much easier.

What does this all mean and what can you do?

There are so many ways you can enjoy incorporating exercise into your day with your children; here are just a few suggestions:

  • Walk, walk……walk!!
  • Discover the joy of short family bike rides together.
  • Put on some music and play musical statues.
  • Try playing your favourite songs and dancing with your children.
  • Put your runners on and go for a walk to explore new areas.
  • Try kids’ yoga together, there are many helpful sights you can follow, such as Cosmic Kids Yoga. You might discover you love paying attention to your breath and getting creative with fun animal poses.
  • Go outside on the trampoline with your children, jump, tumble and try tricks for 7 minutes.
  • Create obstacle courses with balance beams, steppingstones, jumping and hopping
  • Climbing on monkey bars, rocks, and other fun obstacles you have made.
  • Walking on uneven surfaces such as sand, woodchips, gravel, pillows, and blankets.
  • Have relay races that include walking forwards, sideways and backwards, hopping, galloping, and skipping.
  • Create your own Olympic games with different movement challenges.

If you are exercising safely, you can be as creative as you like. Doing some form of daily exercise can help you and your children start your day with your brain in a calm place, where it is most receptive to learning, and able to express and regulate responses to stressful moments throughout the day.

Happy moving!!


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