24 Oct 2022
What is self-regulation?
Self-regulation is the ability to understand and manage your behaviour and your reactions to feelings and things happening around you.
It includes being able to:
- regulate reactions to strong emotions like frustration, excitement, anger and embarrassment
- calm down after something exciting or upsetting
- focus on a task
- refocus attention on a new task
- control impulses
- behave in ways that help you get along with other people.
The Raising Children Network has an extensive range of information on this topic for all ages.
Self-Regulation and Brain Architecture
The core features of emotional development include the ability to identify and understand one’s own feelings, to accurately read and comprehend emotional states in others, to manage strong emotions and their expression in a constructive manner, to regulate one’s own behaviour, to develop empathy for others and to establish and sustain relationships.
According to the Centre on the Developing Child, emotional development is built into the architecture of young children’s brains. Emotional development encompasses the ability to manage strong emotions, self-regulation, the development of empathy, and establishing and sustaining relationships.
Within the early years, children grow and develop at remarkable rates. Children’s capacity for self-regulation—how they manage energy expenditure in response to stressors and then recover from the effort—is wired during these critical years. As professionals working with children at this critical stage of development, it is important to recognise how to support children to understand, identify, manage, and regulate their own behaviour.
Early Childhood Australia has a blog on this topic to share with your child’s educators.
The Hanen Centre in Canada has information sheets on this topic.
Ideas to try at home
In addition to the links above, here are some simple strategies from our Occupational Therapy team that could be helpful:
- It sounds simple, but if you can get more outside time and active play in your child’s day they may increase their ability to self regulate.
- Predicatablity. Children often manage better if they know what is coming next. Support your child to know, what is next in the day, with a chart, or simple pictures. For some children this can make them feel more calm. Familiar routines foster security and allow for greater energy to be spent on learning and communicating. This is especially important for children with autism spectrum disorder. You can find some free charts to support routines online.
- Do you have access to a swing, or a rocker at your local park? This rocking movement can really help some children to feel calm and settled.
- This sounds a funny one, but try and make sure your child has a drink bottle with a straw. Sucking through a straw can be a calming thing for lots of people, especially children. This type of bottle, but note that brand is not important.
- Do you have a sandpit or a garden your child could dig in? Some energetic digging can really help with a child’s ability to feel more calm and settled.
- Learning how to breathe deeply. This is a great one for both adults and children alike, the three, slow, deep breaths can really support a child to stop and calm down.
The Cookie Monster from Sesame Street tries to practice self regulation in this amusing video:
Help for Parents
Getting ready for childcare, preschool or school
When there is a change in environment, some children feel unsettled or worried.View resource