What is Self Regulation?

What is Self Regulation?

Self regulation skill mastery is an essential developmental milestone. As children develop at different rates in all of the developmental stages, this is also true for self regulation. It is a complex process that is influenced by the child’s temperament, environment and experiences.

Did you know self regulation comes in three different forms?

Emotional Self Regulation

Emotional self regulation relates to how we feel emotions, how we pay attention to emotions and how we think about these feelings. It is important for children to learn how to calm themselves down and learn how to act when things aren’t going their way.

Ways to encourage emotional self regulation:
  • Try reading and discussing books about feelings such as The Great Big Book of Feelings by Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith or The Way I Feel by Janan Cain.
  • Blowing bubbles is a child friendly way to practise deep breathing, and deep breathing calms the body down. Plus, who doesn’t like bubbles?
  • Yoga is another great way for children to connect with their bodies and stay focused and calm.

Behavioural Self Regulation

Behavioural self regulation helps children demonstrate control over their actions like listening to instructions and resisting the desire to shout out an answer to a problem when it is someone else’s turn to speak or to stop/go/run in a game. Games with rules or a little structure have the added bonus of helping children practise important self-regulation skills such as working memory, inhibitory control and cognitive flexibility.

Ways to encourage behavioural self regulation:
  • Simple games, like Simon Says, have been shown to help children control their impulses.
  • Look here for some other simple games you can play:

Cognitive Self Regulation

Cognitive self regulation is fundamental to academic success. It refers to having good thinking skills, the ability to focus attention, use memory, consider cause and effect, sequence steps to achieve a goal and understand individual learning strengths and weaknesses. This is usually the last self regulatory skill to learn due to its complexity.

Ways to encourage cognitive self regulation:
  • Traditional childhood games like board games, puzzles and make believe play exercise children’s thinking skills. Board games require children to remember rules and focus attention on the game. Dramatic play requires children to stay in character and to plan a story line.
  • Helping out with household chores, making cookies from a recipe, writing a shopping list or putting groceries away give children practise at planning a sequence of actions to achieve a goal and seeing the cause and effect of their actions.

Tip: If your daughter is challenged with home learning or some other thinking task, it is sometimes helpful to reflect not about how hard she is trying or what she should know, but instead whether she might require assistance with her ability to focus, tune out distractions, or plan the steps needed to accomplish the task.


Kid Sense Child Development. (2018). Self Regulation – Kid Sense Child Development. [online] Available at: https://childdevelopment.com.au/areas-of-concern/sensory-processing/self-regulation/ [Accessed 4 Sep. 2018].

FocusedKids?, W. (2018). Self-Regulation | Focused Kids. [online] Focusedkids.org. Available at: https://focusedkids.org/what-you-need-to-know/self-regulation/ [Accessed 4 Sep. 2018].

Heart-Mind Online. (2018). 10 Games to Boost Attention & Focus. [online] Available at: https://heartmindonline.org/resources/10-games-to-boost-attention-focus [Accessed 4 Sep. 2018].

Ackerman, C. (2018). What is Self-Regulation? Definition, Theory + 95 Skills and Strategies. [online] Positivepsychologyprogram.com. Available at: https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/self-regulation/ [Accessed 4 Sep. 2018].

Expert Tips & Advice. (2018). Strategies for Teaching Kids Self-Regulation. [online] Available at: http://www.pbs.org/parents/expert-tips-advice/2017/12/strategies-teaching-kids-self-regulation/ [Accessed 4 Sep. 2018].


Karen McClintock, Wellbeing Coordinator