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Improving Self-Regulation

What is Self-Regulation?

Self-regulation is understanding and managing emotions, behaviors, and reactions to everyday situations. Self-regulation plays an important role in a child’s ability to cope with their feelings and use strategies to calm themselves when they are experiencing strong emotions such as anxiety or frustration. 

Common signs that a child lacks self-regulation skills:

  • Struggle with transitions - leaving the playground, stopping one activity to move on to another, changes in routine

  • Frequent meltdowns - overreacting to small changes in schedule including crying, kicking, and screaming

  • Difficulty playing with friends - struggle to share toys, play with same-aged peers

Some strategies that can help improve self-regulation include:

Deep breathing: Take a deep breath in through the nose and breathe out slowly through the mouth (pretend to blow out candles to make it fun!) 

Deep pressure: Give the child squeezes to their hands, arms, or legs and teach the child to squeeze a stuffed animal or hug themselves (use a weighted blanket or lap pad for extra comfort)

Count to 10: Slowly count to ten before reacting (take a deep breath between each number)

Ask for a break: Create a break card - if the child is upset allow them to take a 3-5 minute break to play with a fidget toy, etc.

Pause, rewind, and play: Teach a child to figure out what they are feeling (pause), why (rewind), and how to make a good choice (play)

Consider reading more on the impact of emotional regulation with this evidence-based article.


Lin, S. C., Kehoe, C., Pozzi, E., Liontos, D., Whittle, S. (2023). Research review: Child emotion regulation mediates the association between family factors and internalizing symptoms in children and adolescents - a meta-analysis. Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry, 65(3), 260-274.

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