Practical Tips for Teaching Your Kids Self-Regulation

Self-Regulation is a regular part of our everyday lives, and we practice it without thinking twice about it. Drinking coffee or playing loud music so we don’t nod off while driving, tapping our fingers or foot repetitively during a boring meeting, or even taking a warm bath to calm our nerves before winding down for the night are all ways in which we constantly self-regulate.

Children face situations when they may feel over-excited (high alert state) or under-excited (low alert state). However, children are less skilled in managing the highs and lows of their energy and alert levels like adults are. Children need to self-regulate too, but many find it harder to calm themselves down. It is our duty as adults entrusted with their care, to introduce children to easy ways to self-regulate throughouttheir dayand in difficult situations.

Where to Find Self-Regulation Advice?

There are many sources one could approach, to find the best guidance on self-regulation, especially strategies geared for children. One of the best ways is to find advice from an AOTA Approved Provider, who could introduce you to simple activitiesor practices that, can make a huge difference in calming children down when needed or revving up (for example, when perhaps slow in rising to start their day). There are also several self-regulation programs online which offer guidelines on how to teach self-regulation to young kids, preschoolers, students, and even adults. There are even several occupational therapy courses that offer assistance in self-regulation for people who have difficulty staying focused to learn or work at home, in schools, or in the communities. They develop skills to be independent in their own self-regulation and learn sensory strategies to use throughout their day.

Why is Self-Regulation Important for Children?

Self-Regulation is important for children, since it is the basis of all of our goals. For a parent, for example, who is teaching a child how to tie their shoes, the parent wants the child to be in an optimal state of alertness (not in a high or low alert state). For a teacher, who is teaching a math concept, the teacher wants the child to be in an optimal state of alertness. By supporting the child to attain a “just right” alert state for the task, the parent and teacher will find the child more likely to learn thetask at hand (and less likely to have behavioral outbursts). When self-regulation is supported, goals can be achieved more easily with less effort (by the adults teaching or the child learning).

How to Help Children Self-Regulate?

These are specific good practices that are suggested by any AOTA approved provider which are important to start your child off on the path of self-regulation:

  • First, observe yourself. When do you feel sluggish, hyped up, or alert and ready to focus? What time(s) of the day is easiest for you to change how alert you feel and self-regulate? For example, are you slow to get up in the morning and need acup of coffee? Do you like to take a brisk walk at lunch to help you stay alert for your afternoon activities?
  • Then, observe your child’s level of alertness throughout the day and especially prior to doing a task, teaching a skill, or completing a part of your daily routine. When is your child in a high alert state (hyped up)? When is your child in a low alert state (sluggish)? And when is your child in a “just right” optimal state for the task (alert and ready to focus)?
  • Before doing a task, teaching a skill, or completing a part of your daily routine, helps you and your child change how alert you feel so you are in an ideal state of alertness. Try using sensory strategies such as listening to calming music prior to bedtime and dancing to music prior to starting your morning routine.
  • There are lots of ways to learn about self-regulation but it starts with your ability to observe yourself and your child. When do things go well in your day and when do you have challenges? Do loud noises trigger your child to go up into a high state of alertness? Does your child like receiving a shoulder massage or prefers giving you a bear hug to wake up in the morning? Just be an observer and collect information about what you and your child are already doing to self-regulate throughout your days.
  • When you or your child are not in an optimal state (alert and focused) that is notthe time to have long discussions. Be sure, if you want to review rules or expectations, that your child is in a “just right” alert level for listening.
  • Engaging in heavy work (pushing, pulling, tugging, towing, and carrying heavy objects) supports children and adults to return to a “just right” state of alertness. So if you want to have a discussion with your child, you might want to try doing a heavy work activity together (stacking boxes in your garage, stomping cans forrecycling, etc.) while you are talking to help you both self-regulate and listen to one another more easily
  • Be patient… there are no right or wrong, good or bad alert levels. We all need to self-regulate and we all change how alert we feel throughout the day. Some of usjust go a little higher or lower than others. Some just need a little more help and support with sensory processing and self-regulation strategies.

For more ideas, consult with your occupational therapist at your child’s school or local clinic. Or take a self-regulation online course to learn more.