Have you ever heard of the term self-regulation? Or maybe emotional regulation? Or even co-regulation? There are so many words that are used to describe a child’s ability to recognize and manage their emotions that it can easily become incredibly confusing and complex to understand. In this post, we explore the components of self-regulation and ways to support your child and teenager to continue to develop their self-regulation.
Self-regulation refers to the way our brains are able to recognize and understand our emotions and plan their action (behaviour) to process the emotion. Self-regulation is a skill that begins to develop in toddler years through co-regulation with parents, and trusted adults. It continues to develop through your child’s lifespan and will continue to develop into adulthood.
So, what is involved in self-regulation?
The first part of self-regulation involves your child being able to recognize their emotions within their body. This includes components of interoception (sensory information from inside our bodies) whereby your child is able to recognize physical sensations in their body that provide clues to their emotions. For example, butterflies in your tummy and sweaty hands when you might feel nervous. As your child learns to listen to their body cues, they are able to begin to identify more subtle changes in their emotions. They might begin to feel levels of frustration before identifying themselves as feeling angry or begin to vocalize being worried/nervous. For more information on interoception check out our blog post.
So then what? As we begin to listen to the feelings within our bodies (heart rate, tummy sensation, nervous wee feeling) our brain then needs to process this information to label it as an emotion. This requires our brain to recognize a time we have felt this way previously, or when we have seen someone else feeling a particular way. The more we experience different feelings and actively label our emotions the easier it is for your child to begin to identify and express the emotion they are feeling. Your child will also begin to understand the intensity of their feelings to more accurately identify the size of their emotion. For example, feeling a little angry they did not win the game vs. feeling incredibly angry if their toy has been broken.
Now that your child has identified the feelings within their body and linked them to an emotion, their brains then need to develop an “action plan” also known as behaviour. In simple terms – what I am going to do to stop feeling this way. When we are younger this plan is to attract attention as fast as possible for someone else to solve the problem (imagine your toddler crying and needing a big cuddle to calm down). As your child grows, they begin to develop their own regulation strategies to be able to continue with whatever activity or game they are a part of. These can include being able to identify a small vs a big problem, taking a big breath, problem-solving what went wrong and asking for help, the list goes on. The older your child gets the more complex the problem solving they are able to engage in and so their self-regulation skills continue to develop. It is important to remember this is a skill that continues to develop well into adulthood and will be a lifelong learning process for your child.
Occupational Therapy intervention can support children to begin to learn the skills required at each level of the self-regulation process to help develop their independence in these areas.If you have any questions, concerns, or simply need to chat about your child’s self-regulation skills, give us a call on 02 9913 3823.