What’s inside this article: An in-depth look at how exercise changes the neurotransmitters in the brain, to improve emotional regulation, instructions for a fun workout for kids, and a free printable poster to use with your children.
It sounds surprising, but you can improve emotional regulation in your child in as little as 7 minutes per day. I’ll explain how.
Our lives are so busy, it makes it hard to make time for new, time-consuming activities.
But 7 minutes is such a short period of time and can have a huge impact on your child’s emotional regulation skills.
Emotional Regulation and Dysregulation
Emotional regulation is the ability to effectively manage and respond to an emotional experience. People unconsciously use emotion regulation strategies to cope with difficult situations many times throughout each day.
When a child experiences dysregulation they aren’t able to diffuse their negative emotions.
These emotions can take control leading to over-the-top reactions, outbursts, or meltdowns. This is extremely common for children with complex behavioral challenges.
For example, kids who have Autism, ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, or other neurological differences.
Emotional regulation can be achieved in two ways.
- Self-regulation means you can regulate your emotions on your own.
- Mutual regulation (sometimes called co-regulation) means you need someone to help you regulate your emotions
Most kids need help sometimes, or even all the time, with emotional regulation. However, you can improve their ability to achieve emotional regulation in just 7 minutes per day with exercise.
The exercise needs to be intense. Short intensive bursts provide better results than longer durations of exercises with less impact.
I have created a 7-minute workout, designed to be fun for kids and high-impact for maximum benefits!
How Does Exercise Improve Emotional Regulation?
It’s amazing how this works.
Our mind, brain, and body are all interconnected.
When your child is dysregulated, their brain produces high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. It also produces adrenaline. An increase in cortisol spikes anxiety and dysregulation.
This is what leads to meltdowns which cause a huge spike in adrenaline due to the fight or flight response being triggered.
Some research suggests that during a meltdown an individual’s IQ even drops by 30 points.
Exercise has been proven to reduce cortisol and adrenaline levels. In other words, it helps improve emotional regulation.
This lessens anxiety and results in increased dopamine and other endorphins. These are the brain’s natural mood lifters. Less cortisol and more dopamine mean self-regulation is much easier.
The benefits don’t stop there though – the increased dopamine levels improve the functions of synapses in the brain. As a result communication ability improves, as does the ability to retrieve information.
This means that overall the brain is in a better state for learning.
7 Minute HIIT Workout for Emotional Regulation
For this workout you will need:
- An interval timer (I use an app literally called Interval Timer)
- Optional: kids yoga mat
That’s it. You can do this exercise anywhere.
Shove some furniture out of the way if you need to make a little more room.
Ideally, this should be done first thing in the morning, especially on school days. These exercises provide unparalleled stimuli, making an environment where the brain is ready and willing to learn.
Teachers can use it during the day as a way to offer their students a brain break.
However, I’ve also received feedback from parents that doing this workout a second time after school also helps reduce afterschool meltdowns because many kids struggle with emotional regulation in the afternoon.
Basically, in order to learn, understand, and apply new knowledge there needs to be a proper balance of neurochemicals in the brain to bind neurons together.
Otherwise, the information is not efficiently retained in long-term memory. It will also help your child start their school day in a positive emotional state.
Before You Begin
Set your interval timer for 7 rounds of 45 seconds of work, and 15 seconds of rest, totaling 7 minutes.
Get your kiddo’s favorite upbeat music on and get ready to go hard. Your child (and you! You’ve got to model what you want to see!) should be doing as many of these exercises as possible in 45 seconds.
You actually want to be tired, breathing heavy, and your heartbeat elevated at the end of these 7 minutes.
These exercises are all animal-themed by the way to make them fun for kids!
These are exactly what they sound like. Hop back and forth, like a frog. Depending on how much room you have, you may need to hop in one place.
Place your hands and feet on the floor. Your hips and butt should be in the air, higher than your head. On all fours take two steps forward and two steps back, then repeat.
Sink down into a low sumo squat and place your hands on the ground between your feet. Shuffle a few steps to the left and then back a few steps to the right. Maintain the squat and ape-like posture through the entire movement.
These are jumping jacks! Do as many as you can, arms and legs spread wide like a starfish!
Run in place, as fast as you can!
Sit with your knees bent and place your palms flat on the floor behind you near your hips. Lift your body off the ground and “walk” on all fours forward and then backward.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and stomp, raising your knees up to hip level, or as high as you can bring them up. Try to hit the palm of your hands with your knees.
And You’re Done!
Take some time to cool down slowly.
Do some stretches or yoga poses and allow your heart rate to return to normal. Those 7 minutes will give you and your kiddos a boost that will leave you feeling great for hours!
The animal theme makes this workout enjoyable for kids. Encourage them to use their imagination and make this workout feel like play.
If your kids love this workout, you can also try this 8-minute workout for kids.
Want a printable version of this workout?7 Minute HIIT Workout for Kids
Other Benefits of Exercise
Aside from helping to improve emotional regulation, there are other benefits to high-intensity exercise for kiddos with autism.
HIIT has also been proven to:
- Helps reduce fidgeting
- Improves sensory integration
- Increases focus
- Improves the ability to learn new information
- Improves communication skills
- Positively influences learning on a cellular level