High Five: Self-Regulation

Self-Regulation is a child’s ability to recognize and control their emotions and behaviors. This skill helps them develop positive relationships with friends and adults, follow directions in class and feel happier and more confident in new situations. It’s important to teach and practice self-regulation in preparation for school.

Luckily there are lots of fun ways to learn about self-regulation, many of which you are already doing! Reading books can be a great opportunity to name and discuss emotions. You can say things like, “That boy is crying. I wonder why he’s sad,” to help children practice empathy and label emotions. By learning to calmly pay attention while reading, your child is also improving their impulse control. Keep the activity fun by breaking stories up into manageable sessions and stopping when your child loses interest.

 At 5 months babies can recognize differences in expressions and tone of voice. For babies and toddlers, look for books like You and Me Baby by Linn Reiser that have photographs or pictures of faces and name the emotions you see as you read. For preschoolers, Todd Parr has some great books about feelings, such as the Don’t Worry Book, which lists things people worry about and discusses ways to cope with them. Another book for preschoolers is Jabari Jumps, which is about a boy confronting his fears about diving into the swimming pool.

To help kids calm down, we need to teach them what calm feels like. Books and music about mindfulness can be a good way to start. Breathe is a picture book that prompts the reader to breathe as a whale swims and dives. Bari Koral and Kira Willey have music about emotions and guided breathing exercises for children, free to download on Freegal. Yoga also helps children slow down as they focus on their movements and breath. Yoga Bunny by Brian Russo and Yoga Bear by Sarah Jane Hinder are examples of books that include simple poses.

Games can help children stop to think before they act. One classic example that toddlers love is “Freeze Dance.” Kids dance until the music is paused then try to stay completely still until it is restarted. “Red Light, Green Light,” also involves starting and stopping. For an added challenge, try adding other colors like purple or blue and let your child choose new actions like hopping or clapping.

Games can also help children with emotional awareness. Playing Peek-a-boo with babies can give you a chance to model and name different expressions. You can have older kids create “Music Maps,” which involves drawing as they listen to music. Encourage them to draw more quickly during the fast songs, and slowly during slow songs. You can also ask them to change colors to reflect the mood of the song. This will develop their fine motor skills, preparing them to write, while also exploring their feelings through art.

Children learn better when they are calm, so teaching these skills when they are having fun makes it more likely that they will be able to access them in stressful moments. Talking, singing, reading, writing, and play can help you teach self-regulation while building literacy skills.

-- Crystal (Downtown)