How to Help Kids Self Regulate

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Have you ever wondered why, as adults, we don’t throw ourselves on the ground and have a temper tantrum? Or why do we no longer have inappropriate emotional outbursts (or perhaps why we still do)? These developments with age are all thanks to self-regulation!

Throughout childhood, we develop the ability to self-regulate our emotions. Some children learn this skill more naturally than others, but all children can learn the important ability to self-regulate.

This blog will explore why self-regulation matters and how you can help your child cope as they develop the ability to self-regulate. Beyond the tips from this blog, discover BLOOM’s courses, including Aggression, Impulsivity, Emotional Control and Regulation, Anxiety, and more.

Why Self-Regulation Matters for Kids

First, let’s cover what exactly regulation is and why it matters. 

Regulation is the ability to understand influence and appropriately communicate emotional experiences, allowing a person to respond to the experience appropriately. 

When your child comes and says, “I hurt myself; can you kiss it?”—that’s an example of regulation. When your school-aged child can verbalize feelings or ask for help to calm him down—that is also self-regulation. The ability to self-regulate is a huge step in a child’s growth and development. 

As parents, we set out to help our children in whatever they may be struggling with; the first step in that process has to be ensuring that the child is in a calm, level-headed, and regulated state. When the mind and body are in a state of dysregulation, your child is experiencing feelings of intense overwhelm, anger, frustration, or anxiety. It is often to the point where they cannot think straight, so much so that the brain cannot learn or make new connections to engage in positive progress. 

Because of this, we can’t implement all the excellent activities that will help our children thrive if their brains can’t take that input and allow them to use it correctly. However, when the mind is calm and regulated, that’s when positive change can take place. 

When Can Kids Self Regulate? 

The ability to self-regulate begins with co-regulation from early infancy, when a baby learns to calm down through external regulation. When a baby cries and is held by its caregiver with a calming heartbeat, their heartbeat also calms. From there, we want our children to grow, to learn to identify dysregulation in themselves and become capable of then reaching out to someone to help them come to a more regulated state or to regulate on their own.

A child’s self-regulating ability begins by observing their parent’s ability to regulate and taking that in. 

By preschool age (3-5 years old), kids should rapidly develop their self-regulation capacity. This includes the ability to recognize a broad range of feelings in themselves and others and the ability to empathize by placing themselves in someone else’s shoes.

What Causes Poor Self-Regulation in Children? 

Different aspects of a child’s environment or state of mind can affect their ability to self-regulate. For example, tiredness, illness, and changes in your child’s routine can make regulating their reactions and behavior more difficult. 

Additionally, some children have excellent self-regulation at child care, school, or sport but find it hard at home–or the opposite. 

How to Promote Self-Regulation in Kids

You may wonder what you, as a parent or caregiver, can do to help promote self-regulation skills in your children. Many children will develop the ability to self-regulate naturally with standard emotional development, while other children may need help learning coping skills to achieve self-regulation.

7 Tips to Help Your Child Self-Regulate

  1. Acupressure. Very gently press with your fingers on the top of the eyebrows in the middle, then on the two sides of the eyes, and then under the eyes. Under the eyes are often found to be the most calming. 
  2. Eating something tart. Example: dried fruit
  3. Eating something crunchy or sour. Example: pickles or olives
  4. Chewing gum, especially if frozen.
  5. Take a cold breath of air, either from outside or the freezer. 
  6. Movement. Any kind of movement or exercise produces a hormone called endorphins which decrease anxiety and increase regulation of emotions. This is particularly effective when doing movements that engage and strengthen the core.
    • Activity Example: if you have a ball that’s at least the size of the child’s belly, have them sit on it and get them bouncing up and down to a rhythm. Balancing scales, bear walking, or even walking outside along a narrow surface holding your child’s hand are also all great ideas. 
  7. Help regulate their breathing. Teaching your child to regulate their breathing is a valuable tool for them to be able to then regulate their emotions. 
    • Activity Example: give your child balloons and begin to blow one. If your child is small, squat down behind him; otherwise, just standing behind him is perfect. Place both hands on his last few ribs on both sides of the rib cage. Your child will deeply exhale in order to blow up his balloon, and as he does, press in firmly on the ribcage using your palms, not your fingertips. When he pauses from blowing and takes a deep breath, release your hands, so they sit lightly on his ribcage. If possible, repeat several times until he has blown up a couple of balloons. 

Helping Your Child to Self-Regulate

As parents, we should guide and teach our children as they discover and explore the world around them. The ability to self-regulate is an essential milestone in a child’s growth and development.

Not all children will naturally develop the skills to self-regulate—and that’s okay! Some children will need some help from their parents or caregiver. With the tips from this blog and the online resources from BLOOM, discover the support you need to help your child develop healthy and effective self-regulation skills. Explore BLOOM courses Aggression, Impulsivity, Emotional Control and Regulation, Anxiety, and more.

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