The Importance of Developing Self-Regulation in Young Children

a child thinking representing self-regulation in children

by Julie Schlossinger Ed.D.

Self-regulation is a fundamental skill that empowers students to manage their emotions, behavior, and attention effectively. As we work together to provide the best possible education for our children, nurturing self-regulation should be one of our key objectives.

One of the best explanations of self-regulation that I ever read comes from Child Mind Institute, noting, “Self-regulation is the ability to manage your emotions and behavior in accordance with the demands of the situation.” What I like about that is the emphasis on “the demands of the situation,” which gets to the heart of this topic.

Children find themselves in so many different settings that can have quite different expectations for behavior. For example, recess versus a classroom, parking lot versus backyard, or attending a party versus playing in a soccer game. As such, they must be able to resist highly emotional reactions to upsetting stimuli, calm themselves down when they get upset, and adjust to a change in expectations.

In the Lower School at Renbrook, we are committed to providing an environment where students can develop the essential life skill of self-regulation.

Here are some of the ways we address this:

Social-Emotional Learning (SEL): We provide consistent support and targeted lessons (books/stories, case studies, and class discussions) to help students recognize and manage their emotions, build healthy relationships, and develop empathy. Proactive, direct lessons on being a friend and recognizing emotions in self and others help create a foundation for self-regulation.

Mindfulness and Stress Management: All of our students are introduced to mindfulness practices (breathing exercises, focusing on their senses, yoga positions, etc.) that they can call upon to help them become more self-aware and equipped to handle stress and anxiety. These techniques foster self-regulation and resilience.

Executive Functioning Skills: Lower School teachers focus on teaching executive function skills (organization, time management, and impulse control) because they directly contribute to self-regulation.

When self-regulation is nurtured through a partnership between school and home, we see the greatest impact and growth in our student’s ability to thrive and succeed. Support your child’s development by reinforcing those skills at home and engaging in open dialogues about experiences and progress with their teachers.

What families can do at home is:

  • Think of self-regulation as a skill to be taught rather than “bad behavior.” Your tone and content of your feedback to your child can make or break a situation.
  • Stay calm, manage your own stress, and model self-regulation. Get your needs met to support your child better and be a positive role model.
  • Ensure that your child’s resource pool for regulation is regularly replenished. Sleep, a balanced diet, and regular exercise are essential.
  • Reduce unnecessary demands. Review your child’s routine to make sure they are not overloaded. Too many activities/responsibilities will increase stress and decrease their energy levels to regulate.
  • Provide structure and consistency. Let your child know what to expect and what is expected of them (e.g., routines, clear rules, behavior, proactive planning). Predictability helps to decrease stress.
  • Engage your child in helping out at home! Support them in learning to clean up and independently do simple jobs around the house.
  • Set aside time each day for Quiet Time because your child needs unscheduled time to relax and rest through reading, drawing, or doing quiet activities.

If your child struggles with self-regulation, talk with them about the importance of that skill and share any concerns or observations with their teacher. Likewise, if your child displays behaviors at school that demonstrate a need for further development, we seek your understanding and partnership.

The truth is that life will be stressful at times for everyone, and as humans, we do become anxious as a natural response. The combined efforts of school and home will help our children manage “life” and be more resilient, capable, and self-regulated.

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