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.
Why is it important?
As children grow, self-regulation helps them:
- learn at school – because self-regulation gives children the ability to sit and listen in the classroom
- behave in socially acceptable ways – because self-regulation gives children the ability to control impulses
- make friends – because self-regulation gives children the ability to take turns in games and conversation, share toys, and express emotions in appropriate ways
- become more independent – because self- regulation gives children the ability to make appropriate decisions about behaviour and learn how to behave in new situations with less guidance from you.
When and How Self- Regulation Develops
Preschoolers are starting to know how to play with other children and understand what’s expected of them. For example, a preschooler might try to speak in a soft voice if you’re at the movies.
School-age children are getting better at controlling their own wants and needs, imagining other people’s perspectives and seeing both sides of a situation. This means, for example, that they might be able to disagree with other children without having an argument.
Preteens and teenagers are better at planning, sticking with difficult tasks, behaving in socially appropriate ways, and considering how their behaviour affects other people. For example, your teenage child might think about your perspective when they’re negotiating with you about their curfew.
HELPING CHILDREN AND TEENS LEARN AND PRACTICE SELF-REGULATION
Here are some practical ways you can help your child learn and practice self-regulation:
- Work on your child’s skills for understanding and managing emotions.
- Plan for challenging situations where it might be hard for younger children to behave well. For example, ‘The shop we’re going to has lots of things that can break. It’s OK to look, but please don’t touch.’ Give your child a gentle reminder as you enter the shop. For example, ‘Remember – just looking, OK?’
- Involve pre-teens and teenagers in problem-solving and negotiating difficult situations. For example, ‘I’m working all weekend, so I know it’ll be boring for you. Let’s figure out how you can make the most of the time.’
- Praise your child when they show self-regulation and manage a tricky situation. For example, ‘You were great at waiting for your turn,’ or ‘I liked the way that you shared with Sam when he asked.’
- Try to model self-regulation for your child. For example, ‘I’d really like to keep gardening, but if I don’t clean up now I won’t get you to soccer on time.’ Or ‘Let me write that on the calendar so I don’t forget.