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Take a breath...with Emotion Coaching


Year 3 pupil, 'Dario', entered the school in dysregulated state - screaming, shouting, swearing, and throwing objects in the corridor.

Staff had tried various strategies with him already, including distraction, redirection and limited choices. These were unsuccessful, and Dario's behaviour was continuing to escalate.

'Anika', a member of staff member who was actively emotion coaching in the setting, was shocked, as she had not witnessed this level of dysregulation in Dario previously. She was worried about how far he could potentially escalate, sad that Dario was so upset, and unsure as to why he was behaving in this way.

Anika sensed that Dario was feeling a combination of sadness, anger, frustration, worry and fear.

She asked the other staff members to leave the area, and sat on the floor slightly away from Dario. She spoke softly to him, saying: "Hi, Dario. I'm here if you need me."

Anika then allowed Dario a few moments to process what she'd said, before approaching him and modelling controlled breathing, and encouraging him to copy her.

After about a minute of controlled breathing, Dario had visibly relaxed a little. Anika asked if he was okay. He shook his head. She asked if he wanted to tell her about it, but he shook his head.

Anika continued sitting alongside Dario and practicing controlled breathing. She asked again if Dario wanted to talk about it. Again, he shook his head. More controlled breathing!

Anika reassured Dario that it was okay to not talk about it, but that she was there to help and would be ready if he did want to talk.

Anika continued to sit with Dario. After about 15 minutes of Anika's reassurance and check-ins, Dario began to talk.

He was upset that he had forgotten his packed lunch.

Anika suggested she could go and phone his mum, to get her to drop it off.

Using a soft voice, calm tone, controlled breathing, allowing for processing time, and by validating Dario's feelings and emotions, Anika was able to help Dario self-regulate.

At the height of his dysregulation, Dario had been visibly upset, loud, and throwing things. By speaking softly to Dario, Anika was able to provide cues of safety and shift Dario's focus. She modelled controlled breathing - which he copied.

Reading body language clues - Dario dropping his shoulders, relaxing a little - enabled Anika to choose an appropriate time to engage with him. Even then, more processing time was needed before Dario would speak about what was upsetting him.

Anika reflected that the situation made her more aware of how controlled breathing can be a valuable tool to aid dysregulated children, and its power as a co-regulation strategy as often the child will copy or 'mirror' the adult without even realizing they're doing it.

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