Self-Regulation – What is it?!
We have probably all seen what it isn’t! You may have observed a child screaming, ‘I hate you!!’ after being told ‘No.’. Maybe you have seen children keep going with ‘their turn’ long after ‘their turn’ is over? Sound familiar? There are many examples, and of course I’m not talking about your child, or mine! Haha! To be fair, there are just as many examples of poor self-regulation in adults (shudder..!).
Self-regulation is simply being able to control your impulses and behaviour to suit the life situation. It sounds easy, but requires you to control your emotions, thoughts and body all at the same time. This involves complex processing abilities! Self-regulation is one of those skill sets that keeps developing over time, and continues to need attention into adulthood! It is also one of the most important abilities to develop, and sets the foundation to be able to organise yourself and apply yourself to tasks and learning. In addition, the ability to self-regulate means you can communicate effectively with others in a social setting – a huge advantage in life!
In my opinion, self-regulation is one of the foundational skills required to be live well and be happy. This is what we are wanting for our kids after all!
I would like to share some great ways I’ve learnt to assist your children to self-regulate. Ok, let’s discuss some self-regulation strategies for kids!
What Are the Best Self-Regulation Strategies For Kids?
Self-Regulation Strategy No.1 – Make Time for Slowing Down!
At the core of self-regulation is the ability to slow yourself and calm yourself down. It is beneficial, then, to deliberately make time for this – downtime, with no outside pressure or expectations. Making regular time in your kids’ lives for chilling out, and being completely relaxed is so important. It can seem difficult to do at first, when we are so accustomed to rushing from one appointment or task to another. If it means you have to re-evaluate your priorities and say ‘No’ to activities that don’t support you and your child’s well-being, then so be it. Your health and well-being (and your children’s) are just about everything, if you ask me.
Self-Regulation Strategy No. 2 – Go Outdoors in Nature!
One of the best ways to enable your kids to slow down and be calm is to go outdoors in nature. Many of our kids are overstimulated and overwhelmed by the demands of a busy life. The ability to self-regulate is greatly impaired in this case.
Being in nature grounds and centres you. It calms and rewires your entire system, stabilising and regulating harassed bodies and minds. If you make time on a regular basis to go outdoors, maybe a walk in the bush, on the beach, across a paddock – whatever you have access to – then not only are you assisting your child to unwind and rest her/his system in that moment, you are also providing a wonderful context for calm, to be drawn on mentally, through the rest of the week.
A Taiwanese study concludes that even ‘a short walk in the forest can
reduce fatigue, depression, anger, tension, confusion and anxiety’.
So, even if you are short of time, there are still major benefits and you can still experience well-being and calm.
Self-Regulation Strategy No.3 – Scaffolding!!
It is simply the process of helping your kids manage their responses and behaviours as they occur in the moment. This can be coaching them to e.g. stop what they are doing, breathe, and help get them to a place of calm so they can regain their rational thought processes. The goal of scaffolding is to support your kids to learn self-regulating skills by providing cues and promptings as the situation happens. It is a wonderful support and a respectful way to help your kids to ultimately self-regulate and control their thought processes and behaviours.
So far we have discussed making time for slowing down, getting back to nature, and ‘scaffolding’. These all provide a solid foundation for developing self-regulation in your children.
The goal we are aiming for, in all these strategies, is a well regulated thought process that can control impulses and behaviour, allowing your kids to apply themselves to learning tasks, communicate well with others, and deal effectively with challenging situations.
With this in mind, here are some more creative strategies to foster self-regulation in your children:
- Active play and physical activity in general. Higher rates of active play are associated with improved self-regulation. When children work together to play a game or build a cubby house for example, they must, out of necessity, regulate their impulses!! Taking turns, sharing, and conflict resolution are all part of creative group play, which naturally require the practise of self-regulation skills.
- Keeping hydrated and eating nutritional food to sustain blood sugar levels. This simple strategy can often avoid near disaster scenarios. I can vouch for its effectiveness!! Put simply, adequate hydration enables the brain to function properly and maintaining steady blood sugar levels ensures for optimal internal homeostasis and calm. A well timed snack can make a world of difference!
- Mindful yoga and martial arts training. Individual mind/body sports, such as yoga and martial arts can provide a great avenue for improving focussed attention, self-discipline and controlling impulses. A study from the Journal of Child and Family Studies found that students engaged in Mindful Yoga showed significant long term increases in self-regulation. (7) Some evidence also showed that kids with more self-regulation dysfunction benefited the most from the Mindful Yoga. (8) Similarly, research on Tae Kwon Do training in school children over a three month time-frame demonstrated notable improvements in pro-social behaviour, academic performance, and self-regulation. (9) My boys and I attend a local Tae Kwon Do club where we live. There is a term used at the club – ‘djoonbe’, meaning ‘ready’, which is accompanied by the ‘djoonbe’ stance. It has the effect of bringing you back to centre and keeping you focussed and alert, ready for the next instruction, or moves. I’ve found this term helpful to use at home also, to help bring you back to centre, and just as a reminder to ‘pause’ and breathe!
Breathing exercises – Pam from The Mindful Classroom blog (10) discusses how deep belly breathing in particular has been shown to ‘improve pro-social behaviour, enhance daily happiness, and increase levels of calm while decreasing stress and anxiety. From a neurological or physiological perspective, deep belly breathing slows the heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and sharpens the mind’s ability to focus and learn by slowing down the amygdala and supporting the higher brain function taking place in the frontal lobes.’
- There are some great breathing exercises that have been developed for kids to help alleviate anxiety and calm down the nervous system. I found some really fun and effective exercises here.
- Games and Activities – There are many games and activities that support and develop self-regulation in children. Activities where kids use memory, focussed attention, motor control, and problem solving will definitely assist in improving self-regulation. Here is a recommended sample:
- Blowing bubbles!!
- Singing !!
- ‘Drumming’ (with whatever you have on hand, be it drums, saucepans, table top etc)
- Singing with kazoos
- Using straws to blow light objects (e.g. ping-pong ball, feather) across the table
- Dancing to music, then stopping/freezing when the music stops randomly. Moving to fast/slow music
- Using a timer for random activities
- Games like:
- – ‘What’s The Time, Mr Wolf?’ ( https://www.wikihow.com/Play-What’s-the-Time-Mr-Wolf )
- – ‘Simon Says’
- – Twister and variation
- – Card games like Uno, Snap, Patience
- – Playing charades – Acting is great at combining self-regulatory processes!
This list is by no means exhaustive! It merely provides a starting point for further ideas and fun ways to help kids develop regulation skills.
At its core, the practice of self-regulation is also that of self-awareness and self-care. I hope the strategies and activities we discussed here can help you focus on prioritising your and your childrens’ well-being and care!
Thank you so much for dropping by and reading my article!
I would love to hear some of your own ideas on self-regulation for your kids, calming strategies, getting out in nature, and anything else that helps you to centre your kids and yourself!
What is your experience? Please feel free to comment!
and all the best in your journey with your children!
Lyndal Jane 🙂