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What is Self-regulation?

Self-regulation is a person’s ability to appropriately and effectively respond to their external and internal demands in order to meet the demands of a task and deal with stressors. Self-regulation occurs primarily in 5 different domains: biological, emotional, cognitive, social, and prosocial behavior. Poor self-regulation can lead to problems in behavior, mood, attention, and health.

Examples of healthy self-regulation skills when engaging in cooperative play with others include turn taking, sharing, and displaying empathy. A child with healthy self-regulation skills may be able to keep their bodies calm for longer periods of time, such as sitting still while reading a book. They are able to manage emotions and different stressors appropriately, such as eating in a crowded restaurant or waiting patiently for a desired activity or item..

Improvement in self-regulation skills may be needed when a child displays emotional outbursts when presented with non-preferred activities, an inability to focus or sit still for long periods of time without maintaining appropriate social skills, or have difficulty engaging in cooperative play with others. For example, this child may find it difficult to express how they are feeling leading to screaming, crying, hitting, or running away. They may have difficulty transitioning to new activities or engaging in non-preferred activities, such as coming inside from playing on the playground, or getting ready for bed.

Occupational Therapy can work with your child to develop healthy coping skills such as identifying emotions, implementing breathing techniques, and managing aversive behaviors. Talk to an occupational therapist for more information and if interventions geared towards self-regulation could benefit your child’s daily performance.


- Montroy, J. J., Bowles, R. P., Skibbe, L. E., McClelland, M. M., & Morrison, F. J. (2016). The development of self-regulation across early childhood. Developmental Psychology, 52(11), 1744–1762.

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