Self-Regulation in Children

Ways to Recognize that your child struggles with Self-Regulation

  If you are a parent you have most likely seen a few temper tantrum’s in your time. Tantrums are something that you would expect from a toddler, but once they start getting older that is when it can start to become an issue. Also known as self-control, self-management or impulse control; self-regulation is the ability to do what needs to be done (not hitting when mad, containing impulses). Sometimes children can struggle with handling these feelings which leads to self-regulation issues. Working on self-regulation skills can help your child feel more comfortable regulating their sensory needs, emotions and impulses.  


If a child is in a stressful situation such as a fire drill at school, a child that has good self-regulation would be able to get into line and exit the building in a calm manor. A child that is dealing with self-regulation issues may see this as a sensory overload and get stressed or anxious during this time which causes them act out emotionally.  

There are 3 components to successfully self-regulate

  1. Sensory Processing
It is really easy for children to become over stimulated. This can be caused by visual, auditory, tactile (touch), smell, taste and body movement. In a classroom some children are able to focus mainly on the teacher and what is on the board, whereas other kids may be distracted by the posters on the wall, noise from the hallway, the itchy tag on their shirt and more. This distraction may lead the child to act out in class by being disruptive since they themselves are not focused.   2. Executive Functioning This component of self-regulating is the skill to consciously control our thoughts and actions. This can be things such as attention shifting, working memory, planning, flexible thinking and impulse control. An example of executive functioning would be taking notes while listening to a speaker, multi-tasking, self-talk (telling yourself “I can do this”) or organizing a plan in your head to reach a goal. Working on this part of self-regulation will help your child know when its not okay to speak out, plan things in their head and multi-task.   3. Emotional Regulation The last component is all about controlling you emotions. This does not mean hiding your emotions but learning to monitor, evaluate and modify the intensity of your emotions. For example, you may tell your child that he/she has to stop playing to eat dinner, a child that does not have a strong sense of emotional regulation may throw themselves down into a tantrum when a child with emotional regulation might be upset but think “If I eat dinner now I can play more later.”  

It is important to work on all of these components with your child as all of them depend on each-other. If one of these components is not functioning that person’s ability to self-regulate will decrease.


Signs your child might be struggling with Self-Regulation:

  • Tantrums
  • Fighting
  • Not following direction
  • Hitting
  • Anxiety
  • Sadness
  • Easily upsets

Reasons Your Child Might not be Self-Regulating:

  Sometimes when there is a big life change that is when children start showing self-regulation issues. Some kids will show great impulse control but certain life events may make them act out. It is common to see this happen if there is a death in the family, a separation, moving houses or schools and any other big changes. If you or someone in your family is going through a life change and you notice that a child is getting stressed or more easily upset, then it is possible you should consider going over some self-regulation tips to ensure they stay on the right path.  

Ways to Help your Child with Self-Regulation Issues:

  Working with your child to address these self-regulation issues is very important especially when they start growing into teenagers and adults. It is important that they have learned these impulse controls. Parent’s must also remember that Self-Regulation happens gradually. If you notice any signs or if there has been a significant life shift then it is important to start getting them the assistance they need to learn the proper ways to Self-Regulate.