Thursday, March 17, 2011

How Parents Can Support Self Regulation Development in Children

Self regulation means being able to manage your own behaviors and emotions. Parents and caregivers know that these abilities can be difficult for children and tests of them are often seen in tantrums or battles over homework vs. playtime. As frustrating as these situations can be, it may help to know that there are steps you, as a parent, can take to help your child practice successful self regulation.

Young babies and toddlers need more support than older children when learning to regulate. Learning your baby’s cues (hunger versus pain cries, for example) and responding appropriately helps infants learn to regulate. Parents can also help their very young children learn to regulate by developing a routine early. Have a routine for things like bedtime, snacktime, and playtime.

Parents can support preschool-aged and older children’s self regulation development by helping them engage in activities and play that encourage the use of these skills. For example, more pretend play has been linked with higher levels of self regulation in children. Why? According to researcher Laura Berk, it’s because children use more private speech when they are pretending. Private speech is speech that children engage in with themselves. You may have seen your young child playing ‘pretend’ and talking about what he’s going to do, how he’s going to do it, and giving a running narrative of his play. Berk argues that this type of speech in the context of pretend play helps children develop planning skills.

Other work suggests that parents can support self regulation skills in children by letting them take the lead with certain tasks. When children accomplish even simple tasks on their own, like brushing their teeth or packing their lunch, they feel a sense of accomplishment and learn how to plan and organize each step in the process.

Based on work that shows the benefits of parents’ support of self regulation in children and different types of play that encourage self regulation, here are some suggestions for encouraging these skills with your child:

For babies and toddlers:
  • Respond to your infant’s cries and bids – with water, comfort, or other items or actions your baby might need
  • Set a routine early- For example, have a bedtime routine that is the same every night.
  • Consider having a comfort item for your young child when he or she is upset- a favorite blanket or teddy bear, for example.

For preschoolers and older children:
  • Be flexible and let your child take the lead– It takes a flexible caregiver to allow children to take the lead on some tasks. Remind yourself to be patient and open-minded even when children choose to do something differently from how you would (e.g., choosing clothes that don’t necessarily match, choosing which veggies to have for dinner)
  • Find the part of a task children enjoy – and let them complete it independently. Is your child not a fan of tooth-brushing? Help him brush his teeth, then let him put away his toothbrush and toothpaste the way he wants to.
  • Play Simon Says- This classic game is not only fun, but it also requires careful listening and matching your own actions to the directions given.
  • Pretend- When children engage in imaginative play, they use private speech that involves planning what they are going to do and creating a running dialogue of their play, which in turn allows them to practice self regulation and planning skills.


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