What is Self-Regulation?

What is the Definition of Self-Regulation?

The answer to the question,what is self-regulation, can be very complex.  In simple terms, self-regulation is the ability to monitor and manage your energy states, emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in ways that are acceptable and produce positive results such as well-being, loving relationships, and learning.  

Self-regulation is the ability to monitor and manage your energy states, emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in ways that are acceptable and produce positive results such as well-being, loving relationships, and learning.

It is how we deal with stressors and as such, lays the foundation for all other activity. Developing this ability requires self-awareness, emotional intelligence, efficient filtering of sensory stimulation,  coping effectively with stress, relating well to others, and sustaining focus.

Self-Regulation and Childhood Development

It is  one of the big developmental tasks of childhood. Sometimes, kids develop it naturally from being around self-regulating adults, from playing and exercising, from being in nature, eating healthy foods, and getting plenty of sleep.

Other times, however, kids are over-stimulated, around adults who are stressed and/or dys-regulated, and are not getting enough exercise, time outside in nature, sleep, hydration, and healthy food.  These kids struggle with attention, learning, impulse control and relationships.

Did you know that research indicates that self regulation in children is a predictor of academic abilities? Children with higher
levels of self regulation have achieved higher scores in reading, vocabulary and math. In addition, some research has shown that the ability for young children to self regulate is associated with higher, future education levels.

Self-regulation involves the whole person/child

What is the definition of self-regulation in terms of the whole person or child? This skill involves much more than simply self control. It involves the whole person including these 4 aspects:

Physical: biology, temperament

Emotional: personality, exposure to trauma, ability to inhibit impulses,

Mental: focus, shift of focus, control, management of distractions & frustration

Social: interpersonal interactions, empathy, values

This 16 Self-Regulation Flash Card Set in printable PDF format includes health lessons and self-regulation techniques that combine activities based on creative movement, yoga, and Brain Gym(R).

Self-regulation takes energy.

When a child acts out or melts down, it is because s/he has no more fuel for managing stressors.  That’s why it’s important to notice what stresses your children and what soothes them; to teach them mindfulness skills; to play with them; to make sure they get exercise and plenty of sleep.

Dr. Stewart Shanker uses a car analogy to explain self-regulation, which is paraphrased below:

Self-regulation is like maintaining a consistent rate of acceleration.  If we want to go 25 mph, then we will need to adjust the pressure to the accelerator to allow for changes to the road, incline and wind. Driving requires constant changes depending on traffic conditions and speed zones, etc.  Learning to accelerate, brake, and change gears smoothly takes time and practice.  This is quite similar to children learning to self-regulate. Some children are always pushing too hard on the accelerator, while others jump between gears quickly, and some are slow to accelerate. Children need time and support to master the ability to find and sustain their optimum speed and level of arousal while dealing with a range of stimuli and stressors.

As children develop motor skills and process sensory information they start to understand how their body can move slow, fast and all the speeds in between.  Over time, children begin to learn to self-regulate and determine their “just right” body state that is ready to learn.  Too Slow, Just Right or Too Fast – Visual Supports for Self-Regulation digital document includes 11 visual supports to help children practice self-regulation skills.

Use the visual supports to have children practice moving at different speeds to determine their “just right” state.  If children have trouble processing sensory information, you can use the visual supports for them to respond and reflect on their current level of arousal.

This article was originally written by Leah Kalish, MA.

What is self regulation and how can you help?

Activities to Help Children Develop Self Regulation

How can you help a child develop self regulation? Here are some suggested activities to help develop self regulation skills. Keep in mind the definition of self regulation as you think of activities:

  • teach self regulation at a young age – children develop the foundation skills for self regulation from birth to 5 years old.
  • demonstrate and model proper behaviors – this allows children to observe how to choose an appropriate response in different
    situations. Partner children who lack self regulation with children who exhibit better self control to act as role models.
  •  help children to regulate their attention by providing hints and cues by verbally and/or physically pointing out important aspects of academic or physical activity.
  • provide verbal or physical cues to help children to self regulate their emotions such as “let’s stay calm” or allowing a child to go to
    a quiet area to relax.
  • Continually monitor children to determine when adult support can be withdrawn so that the children can learn to be independent in their responses.
  • play games that require start and stop skills such as: Red Light – Green Light, Freeze Dance, Simon Says, etc. Read about 10 super fun games (no equipment needed) that require self regulation skills.
  • participate in dance activities where the child needs to move to the rhythm
  • play any games that require turn taking

Don’t forget, you can always ask an occupational or physical therapist if you have questions about the most appropriate activities for a specific child.

Read more on What is Self-Regulation and How You Can Help Here

Help for All Students

Improving Self Regulation for All Students  Recent research has shown that self-regulation skills are positively associated with many aspects of student success. These findings support the idea that increasing students’ ability to control their emotions, thoughts and behavior will have a wide range affect on all areas they pursue in life.

Key Components for Self-Regulation

Key Components of Effective Interventions for Self-Regulation – Did you know that self-regulation skills develop over time? And, as with any skill it can improve through effective intervention. Research shows there are key components of an effective Intervention for strengthening your ability to regulate yourself!

Writing and Self-Regulation

Self-Regulation and Early Writing Skills – You may not know it, but there’s a link between a child’s self- regulation skills and their academic success. Researchers found that children who had higher levels of self regulation at the beginning of this school year achieved better scores in reading comprehension, vocabulary building and mathematics by end!

How to Practice Self Regulation Skills

Practice Self-Regulation Skills with Visual Supports and Games- When children are little, they develop their motor skills and process sensory information. They start to understand how their body can move slow or fast with all of the different speeds in between. Over time this knowledge helps them become self-regulated as well so that when it comes down for them “just right” way of doing something there’s no need worrying about overdoing anything because you already know what feels good!

Loads of Research on Self-Regulation

The Ultimate Guide to Self-Regulation in Children – Here are the many different strategies, tips and resources that Your Therapy Source has provided over the years all compiled in one location. Think of it as the ultimate guide to self regulation in children.

Activities for Younger Students

Self Regulation Activities for Elementary Students- The 3 activities included in this blog help to literally shift the brain physiology to allow the body to calm, the heart to open, and the right, left, lower, middle, and upper parts of the brain to reconnect. Teach them to your children to use to manage emotions and soothe stress, before they act out, or to bring them back to center.

How to Monitor Progress

Self-Regulation Rubrics – The self-regulations skills are an important part of learning. If your students lack control over their emotions, thoughts or behavior in different situations then the Student Self Regulation Rubrics will help you pinpoint areas that need improvement and track progress as they learn more about regulating themselves so things go better for them at school and home too!

Deep Breathing for Self Regulation

Brain Humming Technique for Self Regulation – When you connect children to an awareness of how they are breathing and give ways that can help manage their own breath, the brain becomes more focused. The Brain Humming Technique or humming is like giving yourself a big hug so wonderful for calming down when one feels stressed out!

Self Regulation Curriculum

Self Regulation Skills Curriculum – Move Work Breathe

Self REgulation Skills Curriculum


Move~Work~Breathe is a self-regulation curriculum designed by a school based occupational therapist, Thia Triggs.  This curriculum provides an effective, time-efficient structured system to provide classroom breaks, improve self-awareness and self advocacy and teach specific self-regulation skills so that kids have tools to use in their classrooms. This system will get kids moving, give them the benefits of a brain power boost [from getting their heart rate up], give them heavy work and isometrics to help them calm down, and help them learn techniques to quiet and control their bodies in order to return to their academic work.  FIND OUT MORE.

The answer to the question,what is self-regulation, can be very complex.  In simple terms, self-regulation is the ability to monitor and manage your energy states, emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in ways that are acceptable and produce positive results such as well-being, loving relationships, and learning.