Take a deep breath.
Count to ten.

These are all self-regulation skills that are important for parents to know and understand, and pass onto their children as part of their social and emotional skills as they grow older. But self-regulation isn’t often outwardly discussed, and many people have found that they have learned these skills through trial and error in dealing with social and emotional situations.

What we experience as a child can have an effect on us later on. This not only includes trauma and positive experiences, but also how we deal with issues is largely dependent on how we were taught or what type of behavior was modeled for us. And since self-regulation skills are not often outwardly talked about or taught, it can be hard for a child to understand how to regulate their emotions when all they have to go off of is watching what other people do in difficult situations.

Sensory Overload and Self-Regulation Skills Go Hand in Hand

Self-regulation of emotions can mean a variety of things to a variety of people. The type of self-regulation techniques you use may be different from something that works for your partner or even your own children.

Anger, frustration, and feeling overwhelmed are a part of life. Self-regulation, however, helps you to take these situations and respond to them in a healthy and effective way.

As parents, one of the biggest struggles we often have is sensory overload. Sensory overload is a term used to describe a situation in which you feel completely overwhelmed, confused, and flustered. You may feel exhausted, angry, and annoyed with every little thing around you. This is often because you are “constantly on.” Someone is always talking to you, needing you, and you feel like you have a thousand things to do at once. Sometimes it can simply be that there is too much noise around you. A messy house can often cause sensory overload and anxiety. There are different triggers for everyone, but unless you are the perfect parent you have probably thought to yourself at least once a day, “Oh my gosh, I’m going to LOSE IT.” That, my dear, is sensory overload.

I never knew I would have an issue with sensory overload until after I became a parent. I was a nanny for YEARS and it never bothered me to have kids crying, a messy house, or tons of noise around me. I could carry a baby all day, and still feel happy and comfortable when I was in my own house. And you’re probably thinking, “Duh. You could leave at the end of the day.” And yes, exactly. In the end, it wasn’t my house I was cleaning. It wasn’t my baby that would probably wake me up 18 more times that night. I had a break at the end of the day, and I could actually sleep.

All things real parents don’t often get.

So when I felt myself constantly losing it after I had my first daughter, I was surprised. Sure, postpartum depression had something to do with it when she was a baby. But that feeling of constantly feeling like I was going to blow my top because the house was messy or there was too much noise or that everyone seemed to need me at the exact same time - that feeling didn’t really go away. And I didn’t know what to do to help myself not explode at the drop of a hat. I could push it down for a little bit but then all of a sudden something would just cause me to explode- and that wasn’t good for anyone.

I was never outwardly taught how to handle sensory overload or how to self-regulate myself in these emotions. I was always looking for a way to fix the things around me (clean the house, tell the children to be quiet, getting angry enough that everyone felt they had to walk on eggshells so I finally had a clean house and peace around me) instead of trying to fix the things in me.

As my three daughters grew, I found that their self-regulation skills were much like mine- basically non-existent. They would blow up at seemingly small things without even utilizing skills that to me, as an adult, seemed like common sense. Embarrassingly, it took me years to realize that the skills I had learned through experience and parenting were something I had to actually and outwardly teach to them.

Teaching your child self-regulation skills is one of the most important things you can do as a parent. In fact, it is one of the most important things you can do for yourself as a parent as well. Here is some information about self-regulation in adults and children, and how you can apply it to your everyday life.

What is Self-Regulation?

By definition, self-regulation is defined as, “elements of emotional intelligence that relate to how well you manage your thoughts and actions.” There are two types of self-regulation: behavioral and emotional.

Behavioral self-regulation “encompasses how you respond to situations and how you act in accordance with your long-term goals and deepest values.”

Emotional self-regulation “concerns the control of emotions, such as consciously processing your feelings and working to maintain a positive outlook while experiencing challenges.”

Why self-regulation is an important skill to teach your child

It is no secret that your child will come across difficult situations throughout their life. They will be faced with decisions, emotions, and situations that will cause them to use the self-regulation skills you have taught them to make the best decision possible.

The first type of self-regulation you will probably find yourself modeling for your children in behavioral self-regulation. Although behavioral self-regulation is much more complex, for younger children it may come in the form of teaching them not to scream or hit when they are angry. It will show up in talking about appropriate behavioral responses to situations.

As your children get older, you will be able to explore emotional self-regulation which, for children, may show up as ways to get their emotions under control in certain situations, or evaluating their mental and physical health to help them assess their emotions. For example, this might mean teaching your child ways to self-regulate to help with a temper tantrum or helping them to evaluate that their anger is actually because they are hungry or tired.

When should you start implementing self-regulation skills?

Self-regulation skills can be taught at any age. For a child, this might happen as young as six or eight months old and may be as simple as modeling baby sign language to ask for something instead of crying for it.

But if you’ve missed the boat on starting to teach self-regulation skills early on to your child, or you’re even just learning about it now. don’t fret- it’s not too late to teach yourself or your child self-regulation skills for both emotional and behavioral self-regulation.

What are some self-regulation skills and how do you to practice them?

Self-regulation skills may be a little different for each person, as every person is different in what works for them. But some general self-regulation skills include:
  • Self-awareness
  • Persistence
  • Adaptability
  • Optimism

But the above self-regulation skills aren’t as easy as something like counting to ten or taking a deep breath- so how do you actually put them into practice?

There are several ways you can practice your self-regulation and to be honest, it’s a long road that is like highway construction- it will always be something you have to work on. Self-regulation is a constant management of your behavior and emotions, and sometimes you will fail. And that’s ok. But with practice, you will get better at recognizing your triggers and you will figure out the best tools to help you respond to situations more effectively and purposefully.

Self-regulation skill #1


According to VeryWell Mind, mindfulness is, "The awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgementally…By engaging in skills such as focused breathing and gratitude, mindfulness enables us to put some space between ourselves and our reactions, leading to better focus and feelings of calmness and relaxation.”

Self-regulation skill #2

Cognitive reframing or reappraisal

According to VeryWell Mind, “this strategy involves changing your thought patterns. Specifically, cognitive reappraisal involves reinterpreting a situation in order to change your emotional response to it.” In other words, you reevaluate a situation or “put yourself in their shoes” to help you reframe your response to the situation. As a parent, this can often mean looking at your child and trying to understand why they are feeling how they are feeling rather than just responding to their behavior.

Self-regulation skill #3


Acceptance and adaptability go hand in hand when it comes to self-regulation. It can mean you look at a situation and remind yourself that you may not be able to change the situation at hand, but you can change how you respond to it. Your child may be throwing a temper tantrum in the middle of the store. You can either get angry at them, heightening your emotions and theirs, or respond in a way that you know will help your child relax.

Self-regulation is a skill that takes practice, and it is something that parents don’t even realize they should be teaching their children. But teaching self-regulation skills are a great way to help your child become a well-rounded individual and help them process their emotions in healthy ways rather than avoiding or suppressing emotions.

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