Self -Regulation- What is it and why is it important?

self regulating

When children are misbehaving, being disrespectful, or using aggressive behavior to get their wants and needs met it’s so easy for parents to get frustrated with their little guys and focus solely on trying to stop the unwanted behavior.

While you definitely want better behavior from your kids stopping the misbehavior shouldn’t be your only focus – we need to look at skills and teaching kids what to do instead!

With the brain research we have today and the information we have on behavior and child development we have a much deeper understanding of childhood and the role self-regulation plays in development. We know we can’t separate out children’s behavior from self-regulation and their social-emotional development, they’re just too interconnected.

What becomes important then when dealing with misbehavior is to be looking at your child’s self-regulation skills and what skills your child is lagging in. This helps you know what behaviors you need to teach.

All this talk about self-regulation and you’re most likely wondering what exactly does that mean? We know it’s something we all want for our kids, but it seems so elusive, especially in the early years.  

That’s because no single definitions exists when we talk about self-regulation. 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.”

As children move along the developmental continuum kids differ in the rates they grow and learn self-regulation skills and more appropriate ways to get their wants and needs met.

Self-regulation in young children leads to stronger academic performance, helps kids form healthy friendships, and provides them with the social-emotional skills they need when facing stressful situations in life.

Without good self-regulation skills children may struggle socially and academically.

So what kinds of self-regulation skills do kids need to function well?

Self-regulation includes skills like the ability to delay gratification, control impulses, think about consequences, remember rules, look at options (problem solve), pay attention, and reason so they can appropriately get their wants and needs met.

The good news is that Self-regulation skills are all learned skills. With intentional teaching of skills and with practice your child’s self-regulation skills can be improved.

When it comes to self-regulation children learn to internally control or regulate themselves and their behavior by first receiving support from external controls where parents or other adults in a child’s life model for them, help them, guide them and teach them to regulate themselves. That means us parents will need to do some really honest self-reflection and examine how we self-regulate when we’re stressed or upset.

According to Dr. Kristie Pretti-Frontczak, a researcher devoted to early childhood education there are five steps to follow if we are to be effective with intentionally teaching self-regulation. We’ll look at those 5 steps in the next blog post.

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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