Does your child have difficulty staying on task or remembering to complete their chores? Maybe your child struggles with managing their emotions when they become frustrated or stressed. Teaching your child self-regulation strategies can help them complete tasks and learn how to manage their emotional reactions. Self-regulation is a proactive, self-directed process for attaining goals, learning skills, managing emotional reactions, and accomplishing tasks. For younger children, we explain that self-regulation is a step-by-step process that will help them make progress and meet goals.
Children with strong self-regulation:
- experience greater academic success,
- are better at coping with strong emotions, and
- know how to resist distractions.
Learning self-regulation from an early age and reinforcing it with practice will help your child improve their ability to focus, and have stronger relationships with family and friends.
Self-regulation is a process with four action steps. The four steps are: make a plan, monitor your plan, adjust as needed, and reflect on what worked. Teaching children to apply these steps will help them become more proactive. In this module, we will focus on strategies that will help your child address the first step in the self-regulation process, make a plan. You will learn how to support your child in thinking about choices and making detailed plans.
Watch this 2-minute video to learn more about what it means to have strong self-regulation and why it is important to support children in developing it.
After watching the video, use these discussion questions to help your child understand more about self-regulation:
- What is something you have learned to do that was very challenging?
- When you learned it, did you make a plan, check your progress or try different actions to keep going?
- What is something you need to learn or want to do now that you can use self-regulation to help you with?
You can support your child in understanding why it is important to learn self-regulation by showing them this video of Cookie Monster learning self-regulation. Tell your child that Cookie Monster has a goal—to wait until his friend arrives to eat the cookies—and he uses several different strategies to help him wait.
After the video, review and discuss the various strategies Cookie Monster used to help him wait. Explain to your child that when we set a goal and use actions to help us reach a goal, we are using self-regulation.
Help your child identify something they need to learn or want to improve. Here are a few examples:
- I want to learn to ride a bike.
- I want to get better at reading aloud.
- I want to improve my score on [video game].
- I need to learn how to ask for help when I don’t understand something.
Explain to your child that making a plan will help them reach their goal. Tell your child that anytime they have something they want or need to do, the best way to get started is to make a plan for how they will accomplish it. Watch and discuss the video Making a Plan to help emphasize the importance of making a plan when they have something they want to learn or do.
A good plan includes details about the actions involved. Help your child create a plan by talking about, writing, or drawing answers to these questions:
- What do I need to do?
- By when?
- How will I do it?
- What could go wrong?
- What adjustments could I make along the way?
Consider printing the Self-Regulation Planning poster and displaying it in your home to support your child in making detailed plans each time they have a new goal they are working toward.
Goals or tasks your child needs to complete can also be addressed using the process of self-regulation. As you help them make a plan for something they want to learn or get better at, help them understand that action steps should be specific and detailed. For example, if your child wanted to create a plan for improving their reading, they might include actions like asking their older sibling to listen to them read and help them with words they don’t know and posting a note on the refrigerator reminding them to practice reading at home each night. Try to include action steps that are within your child’s control (see Things I Can Control wheel) and not steps that depend too much on others.
Helping your child make a plan for something they want to do or get better at can include a range of different goals. Young children often struggle with learning to manage big feelings. They can use self-regulation steps to make a plan, monitor the plan, adjust as needed, and reflect on how well they have improved their ability to manage their big feelings. Teaching them these steps will provide them with knowledge they can use anytime they might experience feelings, such as anxiety, frustration, or anger. Talk to your child about the different techniques they can include in their plan to help manage their emotions, such as taking deep breaths, thinking positive thoughts, and engaging in physical activity.
Watch and discuss this 2-minute video to learn more about using self-regulation to manage big feelings.
After you watch the video, talk to your child about different strategies they have used to manage their big feelings, such as taking a deep breath or going for a walk. Ask them:
- Which of the strategies work best for you?
- What other strategies could you use to manage your big feelings?
As you help your child make a plan for something they want to learn or improve, it is also important for them to consider potential obstacles to their plan and think of alternative actions that will help them overcome the obstacles. For example, if your child created a plan to improve their reading that included having an older sibling listen to them read out loud each night, a potential obstacle would be the older sibling having basketball practice. Who could your child ask to listen to them read? As an alternative step, the child could have a friend or parent listen to them read if the sibling is not available. Thinking about obstacles and making adjustments is an important part of self-regulation.
- Download and review the Self-Regulation Resources for Home Learning
- Play games with your child that help develop self-regulation. Visit this website for a list of games you can play with your child to help them develop self-regulation.
- Explain to your child that part of self-regulation is understanding how their actions affect the outcome of a situation. Watch the videos for What Should Danny Do? by Ganit and Adir Levy with your child: Good Choices Edition and Bad Choices Edition. These videos show how the different choices Danny could make lead to completely different outcomes. Explain to your child that they have a choice in how they act, what they say, and what they do. When appropriate situations arise, ask your child: What choices do you have? Which will you choose?
- Visit your local library and check out books to read with your child that promote self-regulation or use the links to watch the read aloud videos.