What is Self-Regulation?

Teenager looking out the window

Self-regulation is one’s own ability (self) to control (regulate) his/her thoughts, emotions and physical responses. In other words, to do things by yourself, and for yourself, to maintain good health, make good choices, enhance performance and manage emotions.

“Healing consists only in allowing, causing or bringing to bear those things or forces for getting better (whatever they may be) that already exist in the patient.”
Eric Cassel, “The Nature of Suffering and the Goals of Medicine”

Self-Regulation is a Lifelong Developmental Task

We learn self-regulation skills at every age, even before birth. Fetuses suck their thumbs in utero. Infants learn their most comfortable sleeping position and express their need for attention, food, and sleep with different cries. Toddlers walk, learn to communicate with words, express a wide variety of emotions and develop a sense of separateness from primary caregivers. School-age children must learn to increase their attention span, cooperate with others, sit for extended periods of time, perhaps engage in a favorite activity. Teens must learn to regulate their impulses, choose appropriate behaviors, delay gratifications and be compassionate with themselves and others.

Why is it Important to Teach Self-Regulation to Kids?

All self-regulation tasks are essential for success in learning, socializing, and behaving as adults.

Additionally, kids are “mastery machines.” They naturally strive to do and learn more. When taught in healthy ways, children/teens can use their innate abilities to reach their maximum potential. Studies show that children who learn to self-regulate are more successful academically, socially have fewer physical symptoms than those who do not, and tend to be more aware of the needs of others.

Self-Regulation and Resilience: Essential Connection

“Resiliency” is the ability to bounce back or cope with life’s challenges. The International Resilience Project defines resiliency as “The universal capacity which allows a person, group or community to prevent, minimize or overcome the damaging results of adversity.” A resilient person is like a rubber band: when stretched, it can come back and resume its original shape.

According to “Raising Resilient Children” by Thomas Brooks, Resilient children are:

  • Hopeful in the face of adversity
  • Can recognize their strengths
  • Are good problem solvers
  • Feel special and appreciated
  • Understand their bodies reaction to stress
  • Have a sense of humor
  • Can accept what they cannot change
  • Can cognitively process events through words, symbols and actions

In order for children and teens to be resilient, they must develop the necessary self-regulation skills at every age.

By Rebecca Kajander