Emotional Regulation in Children and Young People Who Self-Injure

Self-injury is linked to frustration. Emotion regulation is fundamental for acquiring life skills and well-being.

Emotional Regulation in Children and Young People Who Self-Injure
Emotional Regulation in Children and Adolescents: A Case Study on Self-Injuring. Photo by Ben White / Unsplash

Children and young people who self-injure show contained anger, a frustration they do not talk about, and they often arrive at therapy later than those who externalize their problems through tantrums or attacking others, said María Santos Becerril Pérez, an academic at UNAM's School of Psychology.

In general, children with self-injurious behaviors hardly talk to anyone, because they could not regulate their emotions; what we have to do is to accompany them so that they can express them, she said during the conference dedicated to "Child and adolescent emotional regulation".

Their moderation is a process that occurs in parallel to development. The first step is to have emotional awareness, then the regulation is acquired that allows reaching autonomy in this area, to acquire competencies for life and well-being.

In this context, she said that awareness consists of recognizing one's own emotions, naming them, and understanding those of others. It is important to be able to express those known as "negative valence", i.e. anger, sadness, and fear; they are not bad, but they allow us to know that something is not working and to react.

Meanwhile, regulation is appropriately managing emotions, that is, emotion, cognition, and behavior are congruent. "When one of them is not there, and it is a very simple logic between what I think, what I feel, what I say, and what I do, it tells us that we are not regulated".

People can choose to approach or distance themselves from situations depending on the effects they generate, and by acting in a congruent manner they will experience other positive ones, feel good about themselves and have self-esteem.

"If I learn to express my emotions assertively, I will have better self-esteem, and self-confidence in different spaces to dialogue about what I think and feel; I will take responsibility for my emotions and if necessary, seek help and resources in the solution of the situation I am living," she affirmed.

Having self-esteem and assertiveness allows acquiring competencies for life and well-being, which are abilities to adapt behaviors to daily challenges of life at a personal, professional, family, social and leisure time level.  For this reason, said the expert, it is important to work on emotional regulation from an early age so that there are more children with self-esteem and the ability to communicate, and in adolescence, they generate these skills.

One of the most important skills that adolescents should develop is to make decisions and take responsibility for them, set adaptive goals, seek help, and have a concept of citizenship where others are related.

Parents, teachers, and other caregivers are actively involved in regulation. Their role implies teaching strategies based on verbalization of emotions, empathic listening, containment, and regulated behavior. It affects ignoring them, lying, minimal interaction, or giving in to all the wishes of children and adolescents, which makes them intolerant to frustration.