Children learn self-regulation gradually and through many sources and strategies. One key source is, of course, through imitation of the adult role models in their lives. Therefore, by modelling these strategies is absolutely vital both for your children and for yourself. Emotional self-control is based mainly on our ability to calm down in the face of anger and frustration. Cognitive self-regulation is our ability to solve our own problems. Social self-control, meaning our capacity to speak appropriately.These skills are developing in children and children can be at a different age developmentally to their chronological age.
So what do self-regulation difficulties look like?
Self-regulation of feelings can be the most challenging part of emotional development. A child will need to self-regulate many different feelings in ‘real-life’ situations. Children may find this difficult as they create theses skills For example, a young child may have difficulty settling into a predictable routine (for example, sleeping, feeding) or managing reactions to changes in their environment (for example, noises, bright lights). An older child may find it difficult to wait their turn or calm down after becoming upset. Children will communicate their distress, usually by one of these types of behaviours.
For example: tantrums, fighting with peers, not following an adult’s directions, hitting, spitting, and throwing self on the ground.
These behaviours are often relatively easy to recognise and tend to be noticed quickly. Children who engage in externalising behaviours will find it difficult to self-regulate their feelings and behaviours and may react by hitting, screaming.
For example: worry, anxiety, sadness, withdrawing from social situations, turning away from parent, or teacher.
Internalising behaviours tend to be more difficult to notice, a child will direct their feelings inwardly. A child who internalises their emotions still experiences strong feelings, but holds them inside.
In general, children who struggle with self-regulation find it hard to maintain a balance and their stress levels can get stuck in the ‘on’ or ‘off’ position.
What helps when modelling self regulating skills?
This can be difficult to achieve because of the busy lives that we lead. Yet it is so important. When we offer time we are better placed to remain open and loving to the child’s perspective. Giving children the time and space that they need is empowering in itself.
It helps to meet you child physically at their level, standing over the child can make them feel overwhelmed and may feel aggressive. Kneeling down to their level and keeping eye contact will create safety.
Feeling heard and understood is an essential need that we all have. It can be easy to react rather than respond in a moment. When we take time and make the effort to empathise, children will feel more understood, which in turn helps them recognise and regulate their emotions.
When we do our best to match our child’s emotional tone, we can create a stronger rapport. Reaching a place where we can understand the child’s emotion and match that emotion with our tone of voice. This creates emotional resonance, helping the child to feel heard and understood.
Children need unstructured time. Experts in the fired, suggest that children should have at least 2.5 to 3 hours a day to make independent choices and to be in charge of their own experiences. Remember that children are consistently learning through play