How to Help Your Child Learn to Self-Regulate

Knowing how to self-regulate can be difficult at any age. Picture yourself in rush hour traffic, for example, or in the midst of an argument. We’ve all been faced with challenges that have pushed our boundaries and influenced our behavior. It takes years of growth, empathy, and patience to learn how to manage emotions and responses in high-stress situations. But for children with learning differences, building self-regulating skills isn’t always an intuitive part of getting older.

To help your child grow their own self-regulation skills, we’ve rounded up a few easy-to-follow tips. From managing your own stress to giving your child a steady, consistent environment, these tools will help empower your small child to cope with their big emotions.

What Is Self-Regulation for Children?

A child with learning differences may be labeled as defiant or emotional. This behavior, however, is sometimes out of their control. Some kids learn differently. This also applies to their executive functions. Executive function includes skills we use every day to remember things, speak, and cope with feelings.

Self-regulation is defined as our ability to handle emotions, remain calm, and respond. Our environment plays a big role in this. A child may respond differently to a sibling at home than they would to a new friend in school, for example.

When a child struggles with self-regulation, it’s hard for them to express their emotions. They can’t always handle being scared, upset, or mad.

What Are Self-Regulation Skills?

Self-regulation is an important part of development and brain function. Your child’s body has a natural fight or flight response. When they sense danger, they may become upset or run away.

While fight or flight is natural, the problem comes when kids misinterpret everyday situations. What one child shrugs off, another sees as a critical problem and becomes very upset. To help a child with learning differences, we may need to take some additional steps to help them cope with everyday problems so that they don’t become bigger ones.

Staying calm when we’re upset, thinking before acting, and waiting are all self-regulation skills. Paying attention, cooperating, staying focused, and adapting to changing environments are also considered regulation skills.

How Parents Can Help at Home

Parents at home can play a big role in helping children with self-regulation. If you’re overtired, stressed, and anxious yourself, this is going to be more difficult. Make sure you manage your own stress so that you can help your child with theirs.

Be a positive role model and practice self-care. Show your child how important getting enough sleep is, eating well, and taking breaks when you need them. If you’re running on fumes and not taking care of yourself, you’ll find it hard to give your child patience and support.

The end goal is to help your child handle their emotions. A child that has gotten a good night's sleep, has a full belly, and is in a supportive environment will be much better equipped to do so. Set your child up for success.

Another important thing to note is that change won’t happen overnight. Give yourself and your child some breathing room. Set realistic expectations to avoid frustration on both sides. Practice self-regulation yourself to be encouraging instead of angry when there are setbacks.

parents can help by teaching children through example

The Importance of Structure, Consistency, and Demands

To help give your child the best chances for success, take a look at their daily structure and environment. If your child is getting overwhelmed by activities or a busy social calendar, maybe it’s time for a scale back.

If demands are too high, tensions will run high as well. For every overstimulating and busy situation, a child needs some downtime. Downtime provides a chance to regroup and better handle whatever comes their way.

Structure and consistency are the keys to self-regulation. The structure we provide on a daily basis helps children understand what is expected of them. They know their schedule, what comes next, and what they need to do to cooperate with others. This is a huge weight lifted off their shoulders.

To help keep this structure going at home, try and keep some schedules consistent. Bedtime routines and daily responsibilities like chores, for example, are a great place to start implementing some everyday habits. Not only do you want your child to be able to rest and get the sleep they need to take on the world, you also want them to start to understand the importance of helping around the house.

Children With Learning Differences

Children who have trouble self-regulating often have learning differences such as ADHD. Learning differences affect brain development and often go undiagnosed. Children who are only acting out as a result of being frustrated and as a consequence of their emotional needs not being met may be seen as misbehaving or needing attention. If you have any concerns about whether your child has a learning difference, consult your doctor.

Thankfully, the symptoms of learning differences are manageable through a solid support system and therapeutic plan that leverages coping skills and techniques like self-regulation. Schools like Eagle Hill have specially designed curriculums and trained staff to ensure kids with learning differences have a safe and enriching environment to grow in.

Helping Kids Self-Regulate Together

There’s a reason they say it takes a village to raise a child. At Eagle Hill School, we can be that village. We're a place of structure, learning, calm, fun, and empowerment. A day at school should be looked at as a day to interact with friends, grow and explore in a place that’s comforting and supportive.

We know you hope your home is that same safe place for your child. When their primary environments help to set them up for success, they’ll be even more able to cope with stress or curveballs life throws their way.

Let us help your child self-regulate when you can’t be there. We’ll provide the tools and skillset they need for school and beyond. For more information on our school and philosophy, fill out the contact form here.

About Eagle Hill School

Eagle Hill School is a private school for students with learning differences located in Greenwich, Connecticut. Their academic program is designed to help students struggling with dyscalculia, dyslexia, ADHD, executive functioning disorder, dysgraphia, and auditory processing disorder. Specialized remedial learning programs are taught by experienced teachers who help students navigate through learning challenges, preparing them for bright futures ahead.