By the time many kids get to my office, they are suffering from more than just an attitude of “I don’t want to do this and you can’t make me.” Parents are often stressed and at their wits-end as to what to do with their child. I’ve often heard the phrase “this child is not my child. Help me.”
One of my first jobs is to figure out what is going on with the child’s behavior. Once I am able to understand what is happening when the child acts out, I know how to instruct the parent with helping their child. With this post, I will give you clues to understanding your child’s behavior.
I’m here to outline the differences between emotional dysregulation and defiance.
GI-Joe was correct. Knowledge is half the battle.
Once you have a clear understanding of defiance and dysregulation, you will know how to improve your child’s behavior and save your sanity in the process!
Emotional dysregulation occurs when a person cannot modulate emotions within socially acceptable limits. It often occurs with Autistic children but can occur with any child, at any age.
The most difficult part for many parents happens when child is young and does not have the emotional vocabulary to express feelings clearly. So it’s up to those in the child’s environment to see the difference and then know how to treat it (which will be discussed in Part 2).
Pictures often provide the easiest way to understand the differences. Once you are able to truly see and understand emotional dysregulation, its much easier to spot in the future.
Watch these two short videos. One child’s behavior is the result of defiance and the other is emotional dysregulation. Pay attention. See if you can spot the differences before further discussion. (Warning! Screaming and crying on the videos!)
Notice any differences?
Yes, the first was with an Autistic child but your child does not have be Autistic to have a meltdown. Meltdowns occur when a child’s needs are not being met. The child’s body becomes very out of sorts when feelings are occurring and the body is getting too much stimulation.
Children feel emotions through their bodies. Actually, we all do this, but children experience emotions in their bodies much more intensely.
Many people believe there is a big divide between the mind and the body. This is simply not true.
When one cannot or does not deal with emotions through words, it all gets dumped in the body. This dumping in the body takes the form of crying, hitting, wailing, screaming or even body aches in children. When the child is feeling these strong emotions in the body, a meltdown is their way of letting you know something is wrong and they NEED you to help calm them.
Defiance is much different. Although children can throw temper tantrums when being defiant, it is very different than emotional dysregulation.
The difference lies in the motivation.
When a child is being defiant and acting out, the behavior is often goal-directed. You are in the way to getting what they want. They will do what it takes to make you move so they can obtain their desire. If this takes the form of yelling and spitting to get what they want, they will learn to do this. Defiant children may need help calming down but they can usually do this on their own or if they get what they desire.
Think of a child screaming who then gets a toy. Then they are happy and do not make a peep. That is NOT emotional dysregulation. That is manipulation.
Is the child attempting to get something from you by acting out?
Then it is likely defiance.
Is the child upset with no apparent cause or the behavior is way out of proportion for the cause?
Then it is likely dysregulation.
Do you see these types of behaviors in your child or the clients with whom you work? How do you explain the behavior to others?
Now that you know the difference, stay tuned for Part 2 of this post coming next about the best ways to handle defiance and dysreguation.