The Buzz: Emotion Regulation and Young Children with Developmental Disabilities

Author: Angela Manessis

11 March 2021

Children are resilient, but what about moms?

Children are not born with the ability to naturally regulate emotions. Instead, they build coping strategies through modeling, environmental exploration, and direct instruction. Healthy social and emotional development is rooted in nurturing and responsive relationships with family members and other caregivers, including those who provide care in early learning settings (Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University). Early emotional coping skills development sets the stage for academic and other quality of life outcomes.

In children with a developmental or learning disability, this is particularly challenging because they have delays in areas of development involving social-emotional wellbeing and peer interactions. In children with developmental disabilities, emotion regulation and emotional development is linked to cognitive development (Baurain et al., 2013) due to the neural mechanisms – brain synapses and chemical composition – of specific developmental disorders, which in turn exacerbate emotional responses (Martel, 2009). This is all because there are certain brain regions that are affected by deficits in cognition and emotion regulation, such as the prefrontal cortex (front of the brain) and amygdala (limbic system).

What does this look like for parents, educators, and other active caregivers in a child’s life?

Tantrums, meltdowns, reports of behavior deficits in school, and often poor academic performance. We often see children diagnosed with psychiatric disorders, such as anxiety and depression, but with appropriate interventions, this can be offset.

When children struggle, parents struggle as well. COVID-19 has exemplified mental disorders in both adults and children. Parents are struggling to help their children at home both with remote learning and coping through the past 12 months.