What is Self-Regulation?
When we talk about self-regulation in kids, we’re referring to the ability to maintain an arousal level that is appropriate for any given situation. Self-regulation also involves having the ability to generate appropriate behavioral and sensory responses to the input in the environment and the ability to demonstrate self control: to monitor and control behavior, attention, motor output, emotions, and social interactions.
Self-regulation examples might include a child maintaining his composure and problem-solving or asking for help when another child takes his toy or being able to recognize that he should keep his voice quiet in the library. Self regulation in the classroom or school might include a child being able to attend and stay at his desk while the teacher is talking or being able to stay with his class and walk in line in the hallway.
It sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? That’s because self-regulation is extremely complex. It involves cognition, the sensory systems, behavior…and so much more! Many children struggle with one or more of these areas, making self-regulation challenging.
How Can You Tell if Your Child is Struggling With Self-Regulation?
Kids who are having difficulty with self-regulation may:
-Act overly silly or “out of control”
-Have tantrums or meltdowns
-Have difficulty waiting or taking turns
-Struggle with being in close proximity to others (e.g. circle time)
-Demonstrate problems during social interactions (e.g. talking too loud, standing too close, touching others)
-Have difficulty walking or waiting in line
-Move too quickly or with too much force
-Grab or touch objects impulsively
How to Help Kids Develop Self-Regulation
Even though self-regulation can be a challenging skill for many children, research has shown that games and fun activities can be effective in promoting the ability to self-regulate for children who are struggling.
Games and therapy tools that support planning and problem solving, memory, attention, motor control, and sequencing can help kids develop the ability to self-regulate despite challenging situations and circumstances. Calming techniques, self-awareness exercises, and mindfulness activities can also be effective in supporting the development of self-regulation.
The following 30 games and activities can be great ways to introduce self regulation strategies with kids! And if you’re looking for even more fun games and activities that teach academic concepts while working on skills like turn-taking, waiting, attention, and engagement – check out our book, Playful Learning Lab for Kids!
Games and Activities for Self-Regulation
1 || Red Light, Green Light
2 || Simon says
4 || Duck Duck Goose
5 || Freeze tag
7 || Hide and seek
9 || Freeze dance
10 || Musical Chairs
13 || “Counting down” or anticipation activities (e.g. setting out a beanbag chair and helping the child wait by counting down – “3…2…1…JUMP!” and then jumping onto the bean bag chair. And then repeating the activity so the child knows to wait before jumping)
16 || Dancing – practice dancing fast and slow to different types of music
18 || Balloon volleyball
22 || Sequencing motor tasks (e.g. do 3 jumps, then 2 hops, then stand on one foot for 3 seconds)
Below, you’ll find some of our favorite self-regulation strategies to use at home, in therapy, or in the classroom. You’ll find lots of practical ideas that you can put into practice right away depending on your setting.
1 || These reset activities can help calm kids who are dealing with tantrums.
2 || Try these great calming techniques and transition strategies between activities throughout the day.
3 || Check out these 4 Surprising Ways to Support a Child’s Self-Regulation.
4 || These calming sensory strategies for the classroom can be great ways to support kids at school.
5 || Kids often have difficulty with self-regulation and arousal level at bedtime and naptime. These sensory-friendly sleep tips are great for kids who have trouble sleeping.
6 || Try these calming games and activities for outings where kids have to wait or transition in public places.
7 || These calming breathing techniques for kids are awesome for promoting calm behavior.
These two programs are commonly used to address self-regulation with kids in various settings. Both child development resources have printable/tangible tools and fun lessons to give kids the skills they need to help themselves stay regulated throughout the day.
Books About Self-Regulation
Other Resources About Self-Regulation
1 || Developing Young Children’s Self-Regulation Through Everyday Experiences, National Association for the Education of Young Children. Ida Rose Florez
2 || Self-Regulation Excerpt from Child Development Principles and Perspectives, by J.L. Cook, G. Cook, 2009 edition, p. 352-355.
3 || Self-Regulation: A Cornerstone of Early Childhood Development. Linda Groves Gillespie and Nancy L. Seibel. National Association for the Education of Young Children.
4 || Executive Function & Self-Regulation. Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University.
5 || Discover the sense of interoception, a lesser known sensory system that can have a big impact on self-regulation.
What are your favorite therapy tools, games, and activities for supporting regulation in kids? Share them in the comments below!
Want to learn more about the sensory systems and how sensory processing difficulties may be contributing to behavior and self-regulation problems in kids? Check out our book, Sensory Processing 101!