Mental Health: Focus on Self-Regulation

Did you know that the ability to share and take turns doesn’t develop in children until between 3 and 4 years of age?

Did you know that impulse control (the ability to resist the desire to do something) doesn’t begin to develop until about 4 years of age?

Did you know that being able to regulate emotions also doesn’t begin to develop until about age 4?

We often expect a lot from our children and a study conducted by ZERO TO THREE has shown that many parents have unrealistic expectations for their children specifically in areas that involve self-regulation. To read more about this study click here.

The good news is that the development of self-regulation is a process that begins at birth and is supported through the responsive relationships that a child has with primary caregivers (parents and other important caregivers). Self-regulation includes the ability to show a range of emotions (joy, frustration, sadness, excitement) and to manage those emotions and behaviors in safe, healthy ways. Self-regulation is important in getting along with others and being ready to learn.

Self-regulation in infants and toddlers looks like:

  • Being able to calm down with comfort from a trusted caregiver,
  • Showing different emotions such as smiling when happy and crying when hungry or uncomfortable, and
  • Seeking a trusted adult for comfort when upset or using a pacifier or other security object to support calming.

You can support self-regulation for infants and toddlers by:

  • Responding to your child’s individual cues and needs consistently,
  • Talking about your child’s needs and emotions to them, and
  • Offering positive guidance and choices to support appropriate behavior.

Self-regulation in preschoolers looks like the developing ability to:

  • Share and cooperate with others,
  • Show patience and wait,
  • Calm down on his or her own, and
  • Handle anger and frustration.

You can support self-regulation for preschoolers by:

  • Partnering with your child during moments of frustration and anger to help them learn strategies to calm down,
  • Naming and discussing your own feelings as well as your child’s feelings, and
  • Using simple guidance strategies such as offering choices, having consistent, age-appropriate expectations, and reminding children of the expectations.

These are just a few of the things you can do to support a child’s self-regulation. Remember that self-regulation is a on-going process that is just beginning to take shape in the first five years of life. As children build their self-regulation, they are also building their mental health and resilience. 

Post by Jessica Sims