How to teach self-regulation in kids

You’ve probably heard the term ‘self-regulation’ in kids and parenting circles to describe a developmental skill that every child must learn. It’s often discussed these days as screens are becoming commonplace and our needs are being met much quicker, reducing our need for patience. Recent research has even linked screen time with emotional dysregulation in children. But what does self-regulation really mean, and how can we teach self-regulation in kids?


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What is self-regulation in kids?

The University of North Carolina defines self-regulation as “the act of managing thoughts and feelings to enable goal-directed actions”. They also describe the importance of self-regulation when faced with challenges. In other words, it’s crucial for a child to be able to regulate their own thoughts and feelings to better overcome everyday hurdles. If they can control their own reactions without the need for emotional support, children won’t be as easily overwhelmed.

According to the Child Mind Institute, children should start to regulate their emotions by the age of five. Tantrums are a normal part of development, but emotional outbursts should be decreasing significantly by school age. The good news is that recent research has proven that self-regulation can be effectively encouraged at any age through various methods such as schooling, family practices, exercise and even mindfulness and yoga. So, if your child needs some extra help learning to self-regulate, or you’re simply interested in helping them along the journey, read on for some tips.


How to teach self-regulation in kids at home


The best support you can give your child is to coach them through challenging stimuli. Fairfield Paediatrics suggests staying calm, using time-out, redirecting your child’s attention, waiting out a tantrum, ensuring safety, and remaining consistent when dealing with outbursts. It’s all about guiding your child through their emotions and demonstrating how to regulate them. Keep yourself calm, make sure everyone is safe and comfortable, and help your child through it.


We all know that learning a skill takes practice, so encourage your little one to engage with certain situations in a calm, repetitive way. The Child Mind Institute suggests doing ‘dry runs’, like taking your child to the supermarket when you are not in a rush to practice transitioning through that space in a relaxed manner.

Rhythmic Stimuli

Research has shown that music, rhythm, and movement help children feel and control their emotions. Keeping in time encourages concentration and bodily movement helps them engage physically. Using slower, vibrational music can also help calm your child, and is a great accompaniment to breathing exercises. Check out the QLD government website for a list of music-based, self-regulation supporting exercises.


Where can I get more help to teach self-regulation in my kids?

Every child is different, and lots of things can impact their emotional development. If you feel like your little one is not able to control their emotions like they should be, or if you are struggling to cope with teaching regulation, you can reach out to your GP and the following resources.

Parentline: Call 1300 30 1300 or chat online.

Triple P Parenting Program: Take a free course run by the government.

Raising Children Network: Explore free website resources.

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By Annie Mayer-Rayment


  1. Lawrence, Amanda C., Madhuri S. Narayan & Daniel Ewon Choe. “Association of Young Children’s Use of Mobile Devices With Their Self-regulation,” JAMA Pediatr. 174, 8. (2020): 793-795.
  2. Rosanbalm, K.D. & D.W. Murray, Promoting Self-Regulation in Early Childhood: A Practice Brief. OPRE Brief #2017-79, Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, US. Department of Health and Human Services. (2017).
  3. The Child Mind Institute. How Can We Help Kids With Self-Regulation?. Accessed 16 May 2023. .
  4. Pandey, Anuja, Daniel Hale, Shikta Das, et al. “Effectiveness of Universal Self-regulation-Based Interventions in Children and Adolescents,” JAMA Pediatr. 172, 6. (2019): 566-572.
  5. Fairfield Paediatrics. Toddlers & Tantrums: A Guide to Keeping the Peace (and Your Sanity!). Accessed 16 May 2023.
  6. QLD Government. “Struggles with self-regulation? Try these 7 rhythm and music activities.” Early Childhood Education and Care. Accessed 16 May 2023.


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