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Children regularly experience ups and downs when they are trying to manage their feelings and frustrations. Responding to changes and new environments or situations can be a source of stress or discomfort for a child, but when parents and caregivers respond with care and love, they serve as “emotional coaches” to help children respond appropriately to the situation. This “coaching” helps teach children how to manage their feelings and behaviors, which is known as self-regulation.

In children, self-regulation matures just like other developmental processes. In the preschool years, children’s self-regulation skills are still developing, and can fluctuate regularly. By the time the child reaches school-age, most kids become more flexible, and thus, are better able to regulate (or manage) their own emotions and behaviors.

Regular fluctuations in a child’s response are to be expected while they learn to master the skill; that’s all part of the learning process. However, when a child experiences difficulty managing his/her responses across a number of settings and over longer periods of time, that might be a warning sign that he/she could benefit from additional help mastering this skill by an occupational therapist.

When a child struggles with the ability to control his/her emotions and behaviors, it could result in:

  • Ongoing difficulties with concentration, such as being unable to listen to a story, or focus on their school work
  • Decreased social skill that leave them uninterested in playing with other kids
  • Being easily upset, frustrated, or worried to the point that they are unable to move on.

These types of self-regulation difficulties can negatively impact a child’s ability to learn, maintain relationships, or succeed in their daily activities.

By teaching children how to recognize their stressors and introducing strategies to manage their responses and behaviors, kids learn to master the skill of self-regulation and are better equipped to learn, grow, and succeed at home, in the classroom, and within the daily activities that are meaningful to them and their families.