Self-regulation is the term used to describe a person’s ability to control their own behavior. This ability effects social, emotional and cognitive development and includes strategies to self soothe, problem solve and manage personal emotions. It brief it is the general ability to control one’s own feelings, thoughts, word and actions.
Various factors influence self-regulation. The first factor is age. Infants are unable to self-regulate during the first six months of life. During this period infants rely on adults to identify, respond to and meet their needs. Specific needs include food, sleep, warmth, comfort and interaction.
Another factor important to self-regulation is the ability to form and maintain stable, loving and caring relationships built on trust and understanding. It is important that all children have relationships with adults who are attentive and responsive to their needs and are attuned and sensitive to their wants and desires.
The last factor to influence self-regulation is cognition. As children grow they use language to name their emotions and identify their wants and needs to others. These emotions can range from excitement to frustration for toddlers and for preschool and older children who have already developed various naming skills they need to learn how to use those skills at the right time and in the right way.
The long term goal of self-regulation is the ability to delay gratification and suppress the need for immediate attainment of what is desired. This skill allows a connection between feelings and behavior to develop and is fundamental to building future reciprocal interpersonal relationships based on trust and understanding.
The skills learned during this process include coping skills and the ability to pursue goals by using intrinsic motivation as the primary driving force rather than external “pushes” and encouragement. This is the catalyst for the encouragement of self-worth and benefits also include improved academic performance, problem solving skills and peer interaction skills.
Children learn self-regulation by watching you and seeing how you respond to not only them but the world around both of you. Set your developmental expectations appropriately and let the fun begin.