The 3 R’s: Improving Brain States-Emotional Regulation pt 2: Tips, Tricks, & Interventions

Emotional RegulationThe key to interventions when it comes to supporting your child (or yourself) from moving from a state of alarm (dysregulation) back to a state of calm (regulation) is moving from the bottom to the top. We start with regulating, then move to relating, and finally reasoning.  There are many things which trigger us into a dysregulated state. Being overwhelmed by things all around us and inside of us is very common for trauma survivors. Here are some interventions to utilize when supporting your child (or yourself) to return to a calm state, so that you’re better able to learn and work.

Emotional Regulation Tips:

  1. Brain Break: Here the focus is on doing a regulating activity where you don’t have to sustain focus on (learning) a new task. This encompasses anything in which you are forced to sustain attention on a singular item in order acquire new information.
  • The brain break is intended to regulate (calm) the child (or caregiver) by allowing them to shift their focus on the one singular task, that is challenging to them (such as the active learning and encoding of new information, which is more conscious), to one in which they all ready know how to do (think muscle memory, something that requires little conscious thought and/or we do automatically).
  • For many of us continued sustained attention is difficult. But when we are able to take a break and stop focusing, even for brief moments, we give our selves time process and store information.This is even more vital when you have a history of trauma which causes you to constantly scan your environment (hyper vigilance). Many survivors describe themselves as feeling “jumpy”and in this high alert state, you’re shifting your attention more rapidly (and largely unconsciously). This is why these tips are so important because it will teach you how to redirect your attention back to your task rather than staying in your high alert trauma reaction state.
  •  Most of us really have a hard time listening and concentrating for an extended periods of time, and research tells us the brain shifts about every 10 minutes; basically, it needs other points of focus.

Examples of things to do during brain breaks:

      • Listen to calm music (see below)
      • Drawing/coloring/painting
      • Massage (your) Body (focusing on other sensory input)
      • Reading/Looking at pictures
      • Closing your eyes and limiting visual input (usually this is done in conjunction with deep breathing or singing/humming
      • Noise canceling headphones (decrease auditory input)-this is also usually done in conjunction with something else like closing eyes, deep breathing, drumming, tapping, etc
      • Grounding Techniques: The 5 senses technique is my favorite. You use all five of your senses to reengage in the present-basically its a call to attention of where you are in the present (safe) and not in the past (unsafe) environment/interaction
      • Breathing exercises: 
        • Square breathing: Breathe in through your nose for a count of four then exhale through your mouth for a count of four. Repeat this for 2 to 4 minutes. This helps to regulate breathing and calms the child (or you) down
        • Belly breathing: focuses on breathing from the diaphragm.  It is accomplished by having the the child (or you) put their hands either behind their back as far as they can or up and behind their head then just breathe. Doing this forces their breath down to their belly and subsequently re-trains their body to belly-breathe. It helps regulate their brain and improves their thought process.)

*These breaks supports the shift back to the neo-cortex so cognitive processes can be strengthened.

2. Using movement as a brain-break: While sitting or standing, cross your legs, extend arms out, put one arm over the other and interlock your fingers, then bring your interlocked fingers to your chest.  Hold this position for a minute or so. Then, untwist hands and feet, and bring your hands in toward your chest. Hold this position for a minute.  During both parts of this exercise take slow deep breaths, pressing your tongue against the top of your mouth just behind your teeth when inhaling, and relaxing.  This helps you to relax and retrieve information stored in long-term memory.

      • Neck Rolls – When sitting or standing with good posture, drop your head down so your chin is barely touching your chest. Roll your neck slowly from ear to ear while taking long slow breaths. Only roll with neck down. This improves memory and thought.
      • Lazy 8’s – Draw a sideways eight in front of your face with your thumbs.  Your thumb should be about a foot from your eyes.  Don’t move your hand but follow your thumb.  Do it multiple times with each hand then bring your hands together and do it several more times. This can improve reading and writing skills.

*At first it may feel a little odd to do some of these movements, but they can be very effective as another way to regulate. They can help the brain engage and maximize learning, decision-making and retention.

3. Rhythm. Can be done with a brain break or while engaged in another activity. Rhythm is an effective at calming; it puts the child (or you) in their pre-cortex which results in a strong sense of well-being. Using rhythm can be a great way to bring brain equilibrium, motivation, and connection while having fun.  Rhythm helps our brains become more regulated so we are better prepared to enjoy learning, processing and doing tasks together.

  • Dancing
  • Banging on a drum
  • Tapping on legs, desk, or table (may have to be done quietly as some people are sensitive to auditory input and/or they are in class and don’t want to distract others)
  • Clapping hands/Rubbing hands together
  • Snapping fingers

4. Multi-tasking: This is engaging in a regulatory activity while simultaneously engaging in another activity which requires sustain conscious learning.

  • Chewing gum or a chewy
  • Squishing play-doh or other material such as gel, a squishy ball (can be tough or really squishy), a stress ball
  • Rubber bands for stretching and/or snapping
  • Here is a website that lists many of these materials Sensory Tools

*Check out other activities here: Sensory Activities

Does your past continue to haunt you, affecting your self-esteem and relationships? Let’s work together to help you heal and recover from your past trauma. Schedule your free 15 minute phone consultation here.

These are just a few strategies, tips, and recommendations! I hope you found this post helpful! I’d love to hear from you in the comment section!

Thank you for taking the time to read. Remember sharing is caring, so share if you found this helpful!

Until we connect again,


If you have any questions or would like to talk to learn more about Relational Trauma Therapy, feel free to reach out any time by visiting my contact page.

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Chana Lang

Chana Lang

Hi I'm Chana and I am a licensed therapist specializing in treating sexual abuse and other traumas. Whether you are pregnant survivor, a parent of a survivor or an adult survivor of sexual abuse or complex trauma I am here to support you on your healing so you can love yourself, find your empowered voice, and have the relationships you desire.