Especially for Parents: Supporting Self-Regulation

by Angie Williams

One of the main emotional developmental goals we support at Especially for Children is self-regulation, or the ability for children to understand and manage their own behavior and reactions to feelings and experiences taking place around them. We recently shared the article Regulation as the Foundation for Learning by Jamie Chaves with our teaching staff and thought it would be a helpful resource for families as well—at least it was for me!

Below are some of the highlights from the article, but the whole text is worth a read and can be found here:

The Brain’s Hierarchy
The brain is organized in a hierarchical fashion—there are systemic needs at different levels, and the needs of the lower level must be met before the higher level can be engaged. The limbic system regulates the lower-level needs—those related to survival such as processing fears or threats, anxiety, etc. If the limbic system is signaling a threat, the brain’s resources move there, and higher-level brain functioning can’t be easily engaged. Therefore, when children are struggling, it is important that caregivers first help children feel a sense of safety. As the author writes, “And here the word ‘safety’ does not just mean an environment that is free from perceived threat or harm, it is the felt sense within the brain and body guided by connections to the nervous system. This environment is created through both internal and external messages of safety rooted in relationships.”

Co-Regulation Versus Self-Regulation
When considering the process of creating a safe environment through relationships, it is key to understand that both people in the relationship contribute to the regulated state. Before engaging with the child, caregivers should take note of their own feelings and energy:

“It’s important to recognize that a student’s state of regulation will impact their behaviors, and their behaviors will impact your state of regulation and subsequent behaviors. We call this the teacher-student response cycle. This cycle can be negative or positive.”

In order to make create a positive cycle, caregivers should use tools such as deep breaths, humor, or brief meditation to regulate their own emotions.

The Importance of Sensory Inputs
Sensory inputs can have a large influence on regulation. Natural light, flexible seating, and outdoor play all support self-regulation while excessive screen time can have detrimental effects. From the article: “While screen time altogether is not ‘bad’, it does tend to overstimulate the visual and auditory systems while at the same time deprive the brain of stimulation from the tactile, vestibular, and proprioceptive systems.” Providing young children with an abundant amount of time to explore sensory experiences can help them self-regulate as well as learn about the world around them.

Learn more about the brain’s functioning around self-regulation and additional tips for supporting this important emotional skill by reading the full article.