What is it?
the ability to control one’s behavior, thoughts and emotions in purposeful and socially acceptable ways in order to be a happy, contributing member of your family and community.
behavioral, meaning actively demonstrating self control and ignoring impulses to attend to distractions or respond disproportionately to stressful triggers. Making a healthy choice when you have the opportunity or a strong desire to do the opposite.
emotional, meaning being able to remain in or return to a balanced, calm state so you don’t ignore or overreact in challenging situations. Monitoring your feelings and thoughts, and allowing your inner strength to control your actions.
a skill that must be taught and developed over time as we face experiences and challenges that test and refine our ability to regain self-control in difficult or stressful situations.
influenced by temperament, health, circumstances, role-models, opportunities for practice and skill development, motivation, parenting style and environmental factors.
Why is it important?
It is a vital skill for success at any age, resulting in greater happiness, health and overall well-being because of good decision making.
It improves self-awareness, attention skills, intrinsic motivation, empathy and social skills.
It makes a significant difference in school readiness and achievement. We all learn best when we are calm, interested and engaged.
It helps us to prioritize and focus our energy in positive and productive ways.
It helps students take responsibility for their own learning and apply themselves to achieve success.
Children and adults are constantly exposed to stressors and need to be able to recover from events that disrupt calm, react appropriately and regain self control.
A child with self-regulatory skills is able to independently focus his attention, control his emotions and manage his thinking, behavior and feelings. Having the ability to control your impulses and to stop behaving or reacting negatively allows children the chance to think through a situation and consider any actions and consequences that may result if they react in a negative way.
When does it develop?
Begins very early with young children. As soon as children are able to access working memory, exhibit mental flexibility, and control their behavior for any length of time, you can get started with helping them develop self-regulation (toddlers and preschoolers).
Continues as children get older. Self-regulation skills are constantly tested as school gets more challenging.
Adolescence is a vital time for further development of these skills as teens face increasingly complex social stressors and situations, the need to delay gratification, development of future goals, increased awareness of and compassion for others, the need to manage frustration and stress, and the awareness to seek help in dangerous or unmanageably stressful situations.
As adults when family, personal and career circumstances and environmental factors change, we sometimes must develop new strategies to maintain and practice self regulation under new circumstances. As parents we also take on the role of teaching these skills to our children.
It’s never too late to start. It requires opportunities to practice and learn from mistakes and feedback, so as soon as this is allowed to happen self-regulation skills begin to develop.
Role of parents and caregivers in teaching self-regulation skills
Parents play a significant role in teaching these skills, and they need to let children explore their environment, interact with others and attempt to solve problems on their own.
Teach self-regulation skills through modeling them yourself in your words and actions.
Provide a warm, safe and responsive relationship in which communication is encouraged and mistakes are used as learning experiences. Discuss possible outcomes of choices and actions, and alternatives to use in future situations.
Don’t confuse emotions for weakness. Children need to learn to recognize and understand their emotions. Help children to name their emotions and realize that no feelings are bad or off limits, but we must use appropriate ways to respond to any uncomfortable feelings.
Keep to a structured and predictable routine.
Structure the environment to make self-regulation easier by limiting exposure to risks, using natural consequences and positive conflict resolution and decision making skills.
Make the environment calmer when you sense that your child is getting upset.
Help your child use strategies to self-calm like deep breathing, counting down, taking a break, problem solving, and identifying triggers.
Address blame, catastrophizing and avoidance and assist your child to use positive reframing and an adaptive perspective.
Don't try to talk to your child when he is out of control. At this time he is not able to hear or process what you are saying.
Keep calm under pressure and temporarily remove yourself from a stressful situation if you feel yourself losing control, applying relaxation techniques like deep breathing until you feel calmer.
Don’t avoid anxiety-provoking situations. These are opportunities for practice.
Avoid reinforcing emotional outbursts. Don’t reward your child for calming down; e.g. “If you settle down I’ll give you a treat.” Don’t overdo attention when your child is out of control - you don’t want them to learn that getting upset is the best wait to get your attention.
Although it is helpful to assist your child to calm down, it is also important they learn the skills to calm themselves down so they can handle their emotions when you are not there to step in and help.
Don’t always rescue your child by blaming every problem on others. Help your child identify how their words or actions contributed to a problem. Children learn to regulate emotions and behaviors through a trial and error process, so they need to practice handling problems and strong emotions in a socially acceptable way, and sometimes need to make mistakes in order to be motivated to act differently in the future. The reactions they get from others influences how they learn to self-regulate.
Attend training on the “Zones of Self-Regulation” as it is taught at TIS, and use this systematic cognitive behavioral approach at home to support the teaching of self-regulation awareness and skills.
Role of teachers and school personnel in teaching self regulation skills
Give students choices as often as possible.
Check in with students regularly to see how they are doing/feeling.
Teach students to assess their own performance and identify areas for improvement.
Help students learn to identify their triggers and recognize when they are moving into a heightened state of mind.
Highlight student strengths and provide opportunities to develop student self esteem.
Use positive language, encouragement and support.
Be explicit about what it is you expect students to do and what acceptable behavior looks like.
Forgive mistakes and have a fresh start next time.
Address blame, catastrophizing and avoidance and assist students to use positive reframing and an adaptive perspective.
Teach self-regulation skills through modeling them yourself in your words and actions.
Imbed self-calming activities into daily routines such as Yoga activities, brain breaks, breathing cues.
Designate a quiet calming area in the classroom where students can choose to work if they need space or a quiet location.
Coach students through conflict resolution situations and support students to take responsibility for their role in a conflict.
Introduce mindfulness training and strategies at all ages, helping students learn to be present and improve their moment-to-moment awareness.
Be well informed about the use of the “Zones of Self-Regulation” and use this systematic cognitive behavioral approach in a developmentally appropriate way to teach self-regulation awareness and skills.
What causes impaired or reduced self-regulation in children and adults?
Growing up in an environment of over-protection and continued rescuing by adults resulting in limited opportunities to practice and a lack of need or ability to solve problems for oneself and think positively under stressful circumstances.
Willpower and control mechanisms that are not well developed or have been used up, resulting in poor decision making and performance.
Temperament and low tolerance for stressors and distractors.
Ongoing clinical or neurological conditions such as attention disorders, autism spectrum disorders, anxiety, learning disabilities, etc. which affect how the brain regulates brain waves.
Ongoing exposure to individuals or situations who tempt and model lack of self-regulation.
When to seek professional help
If your child is experiencing constant social conflicts, behavioral difficulties, prolonged sadness and tears or withdrawal from activities for a period of several weeks or longer.
If your child has always appeared to be managing OK and then suddenly this is no longer the case, noted by ongoing tears, withdrawal, and unwillingness to participate in previously preferred activities.
If your child is struggling to maintain friendships because of an inability to control strong emotions.
If your child demonstrates difficulties communicating his needs and wants in an age appropriate manner.
If your child demonstrates ongoing withdrawal or temper tantrum behaviors or indicators or delayed development in any particular area.
If your child is consistently unable to calm himself when exposed to a perceived stressor or reacts disproportionately to stressors.
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McGill, Fay & Boaden, D. (2019). Why Self-Regulation is Important for Young Children. Hanen Early Language Program. The Hanen Centre.
Morin, Amy (2019). How to Help an Overly Emotional Child Cope With Their Feelings. Retrieved from VeryWellFamily.com
Perry, B. D. (n.d.). Self-regulation: The Second Core Strength. Early Childhood Today. Retrieved from http://teacher.scholastic.com/professional/bruceperry/self_regulation.htm
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Self-regulation. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.dictionary.com/browse/self-regulation