5 Tools to Teach Kids Self-Regulation

5 Tools to Teach Kids Self Regulation

In Part 1 of Self-Regulation - What it is and Why it is Important? - we learned the best definition, according to McClelland and Tominey is where self-regulation is defined as the “conscious control of thoughts, behaviors, and emotions.” They describe self - regulation as the ability to stop, think and then act.”

Today, in Part 2, we’ll talk about giving your child the tools to learn the skills of self-regulation as they growing and developing. But before we jump in, let me share a few stories with you.  

Little Jack is two years old. Mom and Jack are out running errands today. It’s past lunchtime and his little tummy is growling like crazy. Coming out of the grocery store, mom says, ok, Jack just one more stop, and we will stop to eat, and then we can go home.

And Jack melts down in the parking lot. He starts to throw a tantrum, screams, cries, and he’s fighting with his mom while she’s trying desperately to put him in the car seat. This is to be expected with a 2-year-old whose yet to learn “Self-regulation” at this age.

However, Olivia is now 4...and will turn 5 in a month and a half. She is in her last months of preschool and will start kindergarten soon. The teacher asks the class to finish cleaning up and come for a snack. Olivia has been looking at the kids on the playground, and all she wants to do is go outside and play.  

The teacher calls her name to get her attention and reminds her that help is needed in cleaning up – and that’s when everything stops. Olivia has a meltdown right there in front of the whole class. The teacher is unsure of what to do and how to manage yet another meltdown from Olivia. She wants to help her and get this behavior under control, but the more she talks to Olivia, the louder she cries and screams, and the more upset she becomes.

Olivia is struggling with self-regulation. She’s really disappointed she can’t go outside, and she is unable to manage her emotions or control her behavior at this moment.

Talking to mom I learned Olivia had trouble, even as a baby, learning to self-soothe. She was a difficult baby who reacted to everything. Soothing her and settling her down was always hard for mom and dad.

As parents, we want to start teaching kids at a young age to learn the tools and skills that will serve them well through life.  As new moms when you picked up your crying baby and cuddled her, kissed her and rocked her - you were beginning to teach your baby self-regulation skills.

Building self-regulation skills begin with children feeling safe and trusting their caregivers. It begins with babies knowing that mom and dad are consistently there for them and feeling all is ok with the world.  

Moving forward and continuing to support the development of self-regulation in your toddler or preschoolers begins in the home with loving parents children trust to provide a calm, caring and stable environment.

By starting at this young age helping kids learn self-regulation, we set them up for continued success as they grow and develop.

With this strong family foundation in place, there are tips and tools you can use to help your child mature in this area. Here are five parenting tools to help teach kids self-regulation.

Be the Model 
As the parents, being an example is powerful. When you model self-regulation skills, children see how calm is done– Children imitate the behaviors, thoughts, and attitudes they see in their parents. Kids learn more by what you do - or model - than from what you say.

Be Intentional
Take an active role in your child’s learning to help them manage their emotions and control their behavior. To become intentional in teaching regulation skills, it’s important to take time to observe, consider, and reflect on the behaviors your child is struggling with, so you know what self-regulation skills to teach. Notice your child’s behavior and label it with words.

Create Opportunities
Multiple and varied skills can be taught through play. Your child has a high play ethic, and the more fun you create as the teacher of skills, the more your child will learn from the lessons you are trying to teach. Find multiple opportunities throughout the day to teach skills through play.

Provide Support 
Giving your child the support they need is critical. As parents, it's hard to see your child struggle in their behaviors and managing emotions when they are frustrated or upset. Your child needs your support, not your criticism. Sometimes lots of support, and extra patience are needed when kids are learning new things. As your child’s abilities develop, the level of support will change and you can step back as they keep practicing their new skills. Practice makes better (we never ask kids to strive to be perfect). :)

Give Feedback 
Targeted, specific, and timely feedback gives your child motivation to keep practicing their skills and learn new ones. Praising your child when they use their new skills encourages them to keep using these new self-regulation skills rather than old hitting, whining, tantrum or meltdown behaviors. Providing feedback by correcting misbehavior also provides kids with valuable information in the learning process.

Children are called on to use their self-regulation skills all throughout the day. Dealing with disappointment and frustration (and much more) become almost impossible for them at times.

A child who struggles in this area may have difficulty building and maintaining friendships, cooperating with others, and accepting “NO”. But by being active in teaching your child self-regulation skills, you are giving them the gift of being a happier child, and eventually, growing into the peaceful and well-balanced adult they deserve to be.

As for little Jack? - Well, his parents have are being intentional and have already started teaching him tools he can understand even at the age of 2. He is a smart little guy and as mom and dad continue to teach, empower, and support him, he’s learning and will do great!

Olivia? - Yeah, mom and dad now recognize that Olivia is in need of help and support in this area of her development. We’ve had a conference with her teacher to best support her at school and I’m providing parent coaching for best practices to guide and teach her at home. She has the support she needs moving forward for the happy and successful future she deserves.

Changing patterns of behavior is hard, and it can be confusing and challenging to try new things. It’s also easy to give up when something new doesn’t work out and then to come up with plenty of excuses about why it doesn’t work.

I need you to know support is always available.

If you relate to any of this information and want to learn more about how I can help you, or if you want to schedule a free phone conversation to see if my coaching is right for your family, please email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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My work is dedicated to supporting parents and early childhood educators in understanding and reducing challenging behavior in young children at home and in the preschool classroom.

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