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Encouraging Self-Regulating Behavior in Kids

by Shellie Braeuner, studioD

When a baby comes into the world, she only knows how to respond. She reacts with a cry to anything that startles or hurts her. She relaxes and sleeps when she feels safe and secure. As the child matures, she must move past this impulsive need to react and be able to make decisions. One of the first steps toward maturity is the ability to self-regulate. It is the first step toward exercising self-control. There are many measures parents can take to help the child learn self-regulating behavior.

Create a Structured Environment

Children who know what to expect learn to ignore momentary discomfort because they know that it will be dealt with. For example, the child who is hungry may cry if he has no idea when lunch will occur. However, the child will learn to ignore his hunger when a parent reminds him that they will eat in an hour. Structure helps children learn to anticipate changes, such as taking siblings to school, going to the library or taking a nap. Throughout this process, the child learns to rely on the schedule rather than how he feels at any given moment

Model Self Regulation

Parents who give in to every emotion or sensation will have children who do the same. Instead, be honest with feelings. When you, as the parent, are angry, let your child know. It is perfectly all right to tell your child that you feel angry when the cable guy doesn’t show up on time. Adults can express anger without breaking things, yelling or using foul language. This shows your child how adults handle anger appropriately. The same holds true with sadness, fatigue and even silliness. When adults share a wide range of emotions appropriately, they give their children tools to self-regulate.

Teach Self-Calming Skills

Young children don’t come into this world knowing how to handle frustration and anger. These are skills they must learn. Some children will immediately try whatever calming techniques they see parents use, but others need more help. Rubbing the child’s back has a calming influence on many children. Try teaching children to stop and take several deep breaths when they start to feel angry or frustrated. Other calming activities may be holding a pillow or comfort object or listening to music. Keep these self-calming objects available to the child for use when needed.

Offer Cues and Clues

Self regulating is all about the child learning how to handle things on his own. When parents swoop in and tell the child how to control himself, they are defeating the goal. Instead, offer subtle reminders of the skills the child already possesses. For example, if rubbing the child’s back calms him down, a simple touch on his back will remind him that he should calm himself. Instead of handing the child a comfort object, ask him where his comfort object might be at the moment. This subtle clue reminds him that he has other ways to handle his emotions.

About the Author

Based in Nashville, Shellie Braeuner has been writing articles since 1986 on topics including child rearing, entertainment, politics and home improvement. Her work has appeared in "The Tennessean" and "Borderlines" as well as a book from Simon & Schuster. Braeuner holds a Master of Education in developmental counseling from Vanderbilt University.

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