Okay, so Vanilla Ice knew about regulating before I did. Cool.
Recently, I have learned all about the world of self -regulating for both kids and adults. I actually came across the topic while scrolling on Instagram one night when I should have been sleeping of course. Pro- tip: stop scrolling before bed! I knew all about how children and parents could be overstimulated by having too much going on or just being overtired. I recognized all the signs and even wrote a post on what happens to a busy mother when she becomes overwhelmed and overstimulated. I didn’t realize when I wrote it that there was another equally important factor that went right a long with it, and that my friends was good old regulation. I’ll dive right into what that means, but for many of you, you may be more familiar with the term dysregulation, because we are in fact, parents.
I became interested in learning more about this new term when I noticed my son Tristan would be a wild maniac before bed time. I knew he was often overtired since now being three years old he refuses nap time when he’s home, although he will still always fall asleep during car rides. Despite being exhausted, he would be bouncing off the walls from around 5:30 pm to about 7 pm at night. I noticed he would often jump on beds and couches, try and forward roll on pillows, attack his siblings with wrestling moves, and be yelling while playing as if he was a warrior about to head into battle. He even starts touching my arms and back and rubs them because he needs the sensory comforts. Sometimes he resorts to trying to lick my shoulders because he always needs stuff in his mouth. I never said motherhood was glamorous. My older two kids acted very “typically” when they were ready for bedtime. They would start to get cuddly, want to snuggle and hear a story and then it was off to bed they went. I knew that Tristan operated differently but there were nights I wanted to scream , “Calm down! Please just relax!” Truthfully, there were nights that I did. And then I realized that this was his way of trying to calm his body down before bed. He was in fact trying to regulate his body in order to prepare it for sleep. Not the neurotypical way, but still very normal. There is still much I have to learn about him, including how his sensory issues connect to his struggle regulating his body and emotions and how these factors can sometimes contribute to an ADHD diagnosis later on for some kids. I have noticed some behaviors of his that have led me to absolutely see a connection and wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes our reality later on.
As I really started to educate myself on ways to tell if your child is dysregulated, I learned that parents can be as well. I found that for both me and my children, when we felt overtired, anxious, or overwhelmed, our nervous systems were on overload. My two oldest children would often cry and become irritable before bedtime and once they laid down would be passed out in moments. I was always the same way. Tristan would often be found throwing toys around his room and screaming at everyone before he finally gave in, laid on my shoulder, skin to skin, and went to sleep.
How can we help our kids regulate their feelings, emotions, and bodies? I have found a few things that have been helping. Deep breathing really works for my daughter and even for myself, while hugging and cuddling works for my six year old. Fresh air and grounding seem to work best for my little guy and I truly recommend grounding for everyone! It’s as simple as going outside and putting your bare feet in the grass or dirt! I know that’s not ideal for before bedtime, but it’s a great strategy for during the day when weather allows. You can also never go wrong with praying or meditating, whatever your jam is. Some parents swear by a weighted blanket, but I have never tried them and not sure if I like that idea, but I see how it could work for some older kids and be comforting. I would never recommend this for an infant! We also have a noise machine and that has always helped because the background noise was often soothing, similar to a mother’s womb, where I swear my kids would crawl back into if they could!
There are days when I have seriously thought about turning this house into a circus ring and getting Tristan a trapeze swing so he could burn off some energy before bed. But for now, my greatest help is to remind myself that patience is key and that he operates differently and I have to be his greatest support in finding ways to help him so that he feels safe and loved. Now, that doesn’t mean I will stop joking around to everyone I meet telling them that he drives me crazy, because he does! And if I offer to let you have him for the week, I’m kidding. Well, half kidding. And humor is my way of regulating my stress. So be like Vanilla Ice…he knew all along.