What is self regulation

Updated: Feb 18, 2019



Self regulation is a sophisticated dance between a person’s ability to adjust their level of alertness when

-processing sensory information

-understanding and expressing their emotions

-using and interpreting language

-executing motor coordination

-performing executive functioning and

-participating in social situations

In other words it's the ability to stay calm and carry on.

Self regulation allows us to communicate our emotions to the world in a way that is socially acceptable & effective in terms of achieving our goals.

Effective self regulation helps your child communicate wether they are tired or happy after their day at school, helps them figure out how to adjust a game when their friends don’t like a certain part of their game on the playground, or helps them keep their cool when they don’t win their soccer game.

Ineffective self regulation results in temper tantrums, acting out instead of using words to communicate feelings, constantly interrupting an adult to get their attention, using physical force like biting or hitting, being over excited & out of control when attending birthday parties or exciting atmospheres, in addition to using phrases like 'I don’t care' or 'potty talk', frequently putting their head on their desk during school, or giving up.

What influences self-regulation?

Now that we have a better understanding of what self regulation is and can potentially look like, lets talk about what influences effective and ineffective self regulation.

Language Difficulty understanding or expressing language can lead to feelings of frustration, which in turn can lead to difficulty with self regulation.

Sensory Processing Miss-interpreting sensory information frequently leads to difficulty in self regulation.

Emotions Strong emotions such as fear, anger, and embarrassment can be hard to control, resulting in difficulty with self regulation.

Social Often times social situations are complicated and require a quick response and interpretation, which can result in miss judging facial expressions, gestures, and language.

Motor coordination Difficulty with motor coordination such as motor sequencing and timing can lead to feelings of frustration, embarrassment or even anger.

So what can we do to help our children stay regulated?

Make sure your child is well rested and fed. Self regulation is easier when we have enough sleep and our blood sugars are stable.

Know your child’s triggers. Is your child sensitive to noise, touch or smell? Is there a certain activity that is particularly difficult for them? Are there certain children or adults that make your child uncomfortable? Knowing your child’s triggers can help you prepare for (or avoid) certain reactions.

Keeping how your child works best in mind, control the environment or schedule by planning enough time to prepare and complete an activity & eliminate any distractions when possible.

Model effective self-regulation by talking out loud to explain how you feel and how you are going to behave.

Remember to praise your child and celebrate when you see them trying to make an adjustment in the heat of the moment.

Implement strategies throughout the day to help keep them regulated. The key to this is to find which strategies work best for your child/student. One strategy might work really well for one of your kiddos but not so great for the other. You just have to experiment until you find what works! There are a bunch of strategies out there, but to start you off I've created a master list of 57 self regulation strategies to try at home or at school. I even organized them into 6 separate categories. Make sure you grab it at the bottom of this page!

And lastly, seek help from a professional such as an OT who specializes in sensory processing and self regulation.


If any of this information is hitting home for you-if you find yourself saying ‘Ahhh, okay. That explains it!’-then I want to hear from you! Please let me know what really spoke to you; you know, that part when you thought 'Yes. That is my totally child!'.

If you find yourself thinking ‘Hm... Wait, let me go over this again’. By all means, read it again- this is A LOT of information to swallow at one sitting, and you aren’t alone if you still have trouble connecting the dots. Give yourself some time to soak it all up. Watch your child’s behavior for the next few weeks and see if you pick up on any of their triggers. And then let me know what you found!

I can’t wait to hear from you guys!

Click here to download 57 ideas of strategies to help with your child's self regulation!

make sure you get your freebies!

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Interactive Engine Speedo-meter for Self Regulation

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5655 Peachtree Parkway Norcross, GA 30092 Suite 117

photography by Lydia Chang