Did you know children aren’t born with innate skills to regulate their emotions? In fact, they need to learn to manage their emotions, attention and behaviours. During the first few years of life, children learn how to concentrate, share and take turns, which helps them move away from depending on parents or carers to beginning to manage by themselves. This process is called self-regulation.
You will notice when your child begins to self-regulate. They will learn to stop themselves from doing something they really want to do (like eating the whole bowl of cake mixture) and motivate themselves to do something they don’t like (like sharing a toy with a sibling). Children who have learned to self-regulate will show more control over their impulses, be able to sustain their attention for longer periods of time and be better able to deal with day-to-day frustrations such as distractions, noise and conflict.
But this process is not always easy. Like with learning any new skill, children experience ups and downs when they are trying to manage their feelings and behaviours. Parents and carers can play an important part in helping children to self-regulate. You can:
- Provide particular support at times when kids are upset, tired or angry. For example, your children might be less likely to cooperate with their siblings before bedtime.
- Break down complicated tasks into smaller parts so children can practise self-regulation without becoming overwhelmed. Help your child get ready for school or their early childhood service by breaking down the morning’s jobs into more manageable things like breakfast, getting dressed and packing a bag instead of simply talking about “getting ready”, which can be overwhelming for many kids.
- Lead by example and demonstrate appropriate self-regulation. Think about how you negotiate decisions at home, manage conflict or a change of plans, and communicate with your child’s teacher.
You may like to read more about helping children to manage their feelings.