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What is Self Regulation?

Emotions, sensory input, and changes in routine are everyday parts of life we all must cope with and monitor. We begin to learn this at a young age. But sometimes, this can be more challenging for some children to learn than others due to their ability to self-regulate.  

Self-regulation is the ability to manage and stay in control of one’s behaviors, emotions, and actions as they adjust to environmental demands. Self-regulation involves many different executive functioning skills, such as impulse control and self-awareness. Many children learn this early in life, as they learn to follow adult’s expectations, follow rules, and engage in play activities. As children begin to age, they begin to understand expectations of behaviors in various situations.  

Why is Self-Regulation Important? 

Self-regulation is important for functioning in everyday life activities. If a child is not able to self-regulate, they may have difficulty with their emotions and behaviors. This may lead to difficulties maintaining relationships and creating new ones, engaging in school routines, and other important life routines. As a result, it is important for children to be able to identify how they are feeling and be able to regulate themselves to either continue with their day or resolve an issue. If a child is having difficulties with self-regulation, an Occupational Therapist (OT) can teach children strategies to improve their ability to regulate or change their own emotional state. 

Signs of Difficulties with Self-Regulation? 

There are three different areas that self-regulation can fall into and many times they are all connected in assisting the child in the ability to regulate. All three areas of regulation are important for the development of self-regulation. Therefore, if a child is having difficulty with learning how to regulate in one or more of these areas, they may present with difficulties in social situations, change in routines, difficultly with concentrating, frequently seeking out movements, frequent outbursts, or have inappropriate response to different sensations. 

  • Sensory Regulation 
  • Emotional Regulation 
  • Cognitive Regulation  

How Can OT’s help with Self-regulation? 

There are various strategies and tools that an OT can introduce and help children incorporate into their daily lives to help them self-regulate. Based on an evaluation completed by an OT, they will determine which area(s) of regulation need to be addressed through skilled interventions.  

Sensory regulation Strategies:  

Sensory regulation is the ability for one to take in their sensory environment and process sensory input while responding appropriately. The choice of strategies varies on the child’s needs and goals outlined. However, the main goal is for an OT to assist a child learn how to take in input from their environment, process it, and engage in their routines successfully.  

  • Sensory diets 
  • Social stories 
  • Obstacle courses 
  • Calming tools (i.e. fidgets or breathing exercises) 

Emotional Regulation Strategies: 

Emotional regulation is the ability for one to vary their emotional response to different situations that is socially acceptable. Often children benefit from strategies that focus on learning what emotions are and giving them verbiage to express their emotions, situations where they feel various emotions, and how they can manage those feelings.  

  • Zones of Regulation 
  • Alert Program: How Does Your Engine Run? 
  • Social Thinking Curriculum 

Cognitive Regulation 

Cognitive regulation is one’s ability to solve simple and complex problems and their response to change. The central objective is for an OT to assist a child in teaching a child to use mental processes to increase problem-solving skills and their ability to concentrate for long periods. 

  • Executive functioning activities 
  • Working memory activities 
  • Problem-solving activities  
  • Calming tools (i.e. fidgets or breathing exercises) 

There are many strategies that can be tried at home to help a child self-regulate. However, if they continue to have difficulty with regulating, it is important to seek out an OT for guidance on more specific strategies and tools to assist in self-regulation.  

  • Sydney Centers, Occupational Therapist, Bellevue, TN