self-regulation skills

How to Steal a March #16: Helping Kids Develop Self-Regulation Skills

We all want what’s best for kids, if only we knew–but we do; helping kids develop self-regulation skills is critical for their future and their success. And the most sensitive time to begin that process is during the early years, from birth to the age of 5. The best way is with everyday, ordinary experiences. developing self-regulation skillsSelf-regulation involves coping with emotions, controlling impulses and attention, handling problems, and being able to wait. Early childhood expert, Dr.Ida Rose Florez, has studied young children and the role of self-regulation. In her article, Developing Young Children’s Self-Regulation through Everyday Experiences, she describes it as a sort of internal thermostat that we all use to guide our responses to situations. Children learn how to turn on and off their reactions to situations and to warm up or cool down their interactions. Like any other skills, this takes practice and support. As parents and teachers, we can help kids develop them.

Each day will have countless opportunities for us to model how we control and regulate our emotions and behaviors. For instance, if we are feeling frustrated because the morning is hectic, we can mention we’re getting pretty upset and need to take a deep breath so we can get back to being calm. Out and about, if we have to wait in line, we can talk about how it’s hard to wait for a turn, but that’s what people do.

Children don’t have the words to tell us about their emotions. When we notice emotions building, we can say something like, “I see you are feeling frustrated because you can’t get that toy to work.” Or perhaps, “I hear your voice is quite upset when your sister/brother won’t listen to you. Are you feeling angry?” As well as cues and reminders, a gentle touch or short back rub can help a child regain control.

Books and stories are great resources for sharing examples. There are dozens of titles for many common issues for kids. Maurice Sendak’s, “Where the Wild Things Are,” has been a top choice for decades. developing slef-regulation skills

One of the best opportunities for helping kids develop self-regulation skills is, of course, through play. As children play, they are being constantly challenged to explore their emotions, solve problems, and direct their attention. Development of these skills gives kids a distinct advantage, it enables them to ‘steal a march.’ What can you do today to support learning self-regulation?


Helping Kids With Self-Regulation – Fire OK for Dragons, Not Kids

Dragons aren’t very good controlling their emotions. They just breathe fire. Helping kids with self-regulation is easier than helping dragons. It’s okay for dragons to breathe fire, but not kids.

helping children with self-regulation

Self-regulation is the ability and skills to control our emotions, motivation, and attention or focus. It affects all of us for our whole life and it’s crucial to support children to develop a strong emotional core during the early years.

When it comes to feelings, besides understanding them, a big challenge for kids is how to regulate their own emotions. When dragons are angry they can breathe fire and roar. Is it okay for kids to breathe fire and roar at people? No, that’s not such a good choice.

emotional challenges

Tantrums, melt-downs, and losing it, are pretty fiery but they aren’t good choices either. Kids don’t come pre-equipped with the skills and understanding to handle strong feelings. This is something they need to learn. Helping kids with self-regulation involves parents, caregivers, and other adults.

Children will learn from watching us as we go about everyday activities and interact with others. It helps if we can explain what we are feeling. Here’s an example. Last week, when packing for a short trip, the zipper broke on the suitcase. After biting my tongue so I didn’t say a bad word, I used words and tone of voice and said, “Oh, how frustrating! Now, I’ll have to change suitcases. This is a problem and I feel like screaming. Guess, I’ll take a deep breath and see if I can calm myself down.” When you do this, you are giving your child the words for an inner voice and the example of what to do.

empathy and imagination

We can also give kids hints, reminders, or clues. For example, we might say to a child, “You look upset. Would you like to ask someone for help?” If a child is having difficulty with a toy, we can ask them if they’d like to take a break for a minute or two and come back. Kids can use the hints for their actions. This way they can practice making the choice. Physical touch, like rubbing a child’s back, or giving a hand a squeeze can be effective reminders for calming down.

Waiting can be hard for adults, so it’s understandable it’s especially hard for kids. Strategies like looking at a book, singing songs, or playing an I Spy game can make waiting much easier. Speaking of books, there are many books and stories you can share for helping kids with self-regulation. Libraries will likely have some you can borrow.

helping kids with self-regulation

In any day, there will be countless challenges for kids to cope with their emotions. They need to know it’s okay to have strong feelings. They might even feel like they have a fire inside. But, who would want to negotiate with a dragon?

Olympics #22: Children’s Coping with Winning and Losing, Fair and Unfair

Crowds at airports and hometown parades are welcoming athletes. Some were winners, some not. Children’s coping with winning and losing can be a concern. During the Olympics we saw how hard this was for many adults, so imagine how much harder this can be for children.


Although preschool children are not involved in sports and teams, they have had winning and losing, or fair and unfair, experiences. The arrival of little brothers and sisters impacts the amount of time and attention they get. On the other hand, older kids in families get advantages that younger ones might not. Where do kids develop these ideas of fairness?

Surprisingly, animals have ideas of what’s fair or not. When two monkeys are rewarded with pieces of cucumber for a task, they are fine. When one monkey is given cucumber, but the other a grape (which is a sweeter treat) there is quite a different reaction. The monkey given the cucumber becomes very agitated, throwing back the cucumber, slapping the counter, and trying to reach the grapes. This experiment has been repeated with other animals with similar results. Fairness is pretty basic.

Generally, we strive to make events or situations as fair for kids as we can. When winning and losing is involved, we likely try to make it less hurtful. As one Olympic athlete said, “Losing sucks.” So what can we do for kids? We know that there’s no way kids can win all the time.

Children are developing their self-regulation and emotional control. They need us to do more than explain and lecture. We have to show them. In the words of Kenneth Barish, in the article Winning and Losing for Psychology Today, kids learn from the example of what we do, and how we cope. He advises, “When you play with your children, if you play with enough enthusiasm and express some of your own excitement and disappointment, your child will also, in some way, acknowledge these feelings.”

Children are not only watching the game or event, they are also watching us. They have to see, hear, feel, and know it’s okay to lose. It also helps if we can give them the words to talk about their feelings. We get pretty good at reading their body language so can name the emotion for them and suggest strategies. Some kids may need a quiet cuddle, others a fast run around the yard. children's coping with winning and losingWinning and losing is a challenge for adults. Children’s coping with winning and losing will need our example and support. How do you help your child?

Pirate Fun For Kids #22: Treasure in a Bottle

Pirates likely didn’t worry about their feelings, but for kids, learning how to regulate their bodies and feelings is part of early development as well as kindergarten readiness. Even though they are very young, feelings can be deeply intense for children. Emotions can overwhelm kids and they react to something small with big actions such … Continue reading Pirate Fun For Kids #22: Treasure in a Bottle

Kindergarten Readiness – Helping Children Regulate Emotions

Christmas and holidays have been wonderful and now that the excitement is wearing off and the routine is returning, logically shouldn’t kids be more settled and calmer instead of driving you crazy? While adults may be breathing a sigh of relief, kids do not yet have the same skills to control their emotions and this … Continue reading Kindergarten Readiness – Helping Children Regulate Emotions

Readiness for Kindergarten – Kids and Holiday Stress?

I heard from 2 moms today that their little ones were “off the wall” and having a “melt down”. New toys, a visit with Santa, lots of attention, cookies and other treats–how kids be stressed out? Stress doesn’t have to be negative. Kids can be dealing with tension after Christmas because they are overexcited, overstimulated and missing their … Continue reading Readiness for Kindergarten – Kids and Holiday Stress?