Pediatric self-regulation

Children regularly experience ups and downs when they are trying to manage their feelings and frustrations. Responding to changes and new environments or situations can be a source of stress or discomfort for a child, but when parents and caregivers respond with care and love, they serve as “emotional coaches” to help children respond appropriately to the situation. This “coaching” helps teach children how to manage their feelings and behaviors, which is known as self-regulation.

In children, self-regulation matures just like other developmental processes. In the preschool years, children’s self-regulation skills are still developing, and can fluctuate regularly. By the time the child reaches school-age, most kids become more flexible, and thus, are better able to regulate (or manage) their own emotions and behaviors.

Regular fluctuations in a child’s response are to be expected while they learn to master the skill; that’s all part of the learning process. However, when a child experiences difficulty managing his/her responses across a number of settings and over longer periods of time, that might be a warning sign that he/she could benefit from additional help mastering this skill by an occupational therapist.

When a child struggles with the ability to control his/her emotions and behaviors, it could result in:

  • ongoing difficulties with concentration, such as being unable to listen to a story, or focus on their school work
  • decreased social skills  that leave them uninterested in playing with other kids
  • being easily upset, frustrated, or worried to the point that they are unable to move on.

These types of self-regulation difficulties can negatively impact a child’s ability to learn, maintain relationships , or succeed in their  daily activities.

Our skilled occupational therapists work with kids to help teach strategies and tactics that are unique to them and their individual personalities, so that they are more effective and easier for the child to do. These strategies could include things like:

  • using fidget toys or stress balls
  • deep-breathing exercises
  • short bursts of exercise or physical activity to burn excess energy
  • and many more!

When working with children, it’s crucial to involve their families, teachers, and other important caregivers in the process, so that they can help model and reinforce the strategies and behaviors. Our clinicians partner with these key mentors throughout the process and share tips and resources to help the child be as successful as possible when learning and using the tools created for them.

By teaching children how to recognize their stressors and introducing strategies to manage their responses and behaviors, kids learn to master the skill of self-regulation and are better equipped to learn, grow, and succeed at home, in the classroom, and within the daily activities that are meaningful to them and their families.

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