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  • Eileen Ward

How to Help Children Cope with Emotionally Dysregulated Adults

As a parent, we have this instinctual desire to keep our children in a bubble of protection. We want to shelter them from all of the pain and hurt in the world, and the fact that we cannot is one the most difficult things I have experienced as a parent. Having my daughter navigate seeing dysregulated caregivers has been complicated but also has helped me heal a lot of my childhood trauma of seeing dysregulation but not being guided through it.

For the last couple of years, my husband has struggled with his mental health, and while we have done an excellent job of sheltering our daughter from the worst of it, kids are more perceptive than we often give them credit for. When we recently visited my mom, who was also struggling with her mental health, I knew we needed a plan. Here are some things that we have done to help my daughter stay grounded when witnessing emotionally dysregulated caregivers.

We talk openly about mental illness in our family. When my mom was acting dysregulated, my father and I would repeat to my daughter that she did nothing wrong and this it was not her fault. When my mom was calm, she also would reinforce this. My daughter had multiple safe adults reiterating that she was safe, that we were talking about uncomfortable topics, and that she was not at fault.

Another way of talking openly was telling her exactly what was happening; in this case, my mother was having an adverse reaction to a medication. We spoke to her about grandma’s brain not making the right chemicals because her medication was not the right one for her body. When we went to the doctor together, we discussed why.

When my husband got sick, we immediately put our daughter into therapy. It gave her an experienced adult to talk to and a routine of being able to go there weekly. It has been a tremendous resource for both her and our parents as we do regular check-ins with her therapist.

Remind your child that their job is to be a child. It is never their job to solve adult problems. Repeat this to them, and make them repeat it back to you. No one said this to me as a child which had a profound effect on me.

As much as we wish we could shelter our children from everything painful, it’s impossible to live like that. So instead, we foster skills to help kids feel safe and able to communicate with the safe caregivers in their lives even when those caregivers are going through their own struggles. Creating this plan not only kept my daughter safe but started insightful conversations and openness in our family as we continue to fight to destigmatize mental health struggles.


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