Quick Self Regulation Guide For Parents
Self regulation is your ability to monitor and manage your energy states and your reactions to your thoughts, emotions and sensations. It involves all kinds of different mental processes such as your ability to process information coming in through your senses, recognize your bodily feelings and sensations, control impulses, use flexible thinking, and plan ahead to use strategies. Self regulation is a life long learning process that doesn’t fully mature until the 20’s and 30’s, if ever, and it’s something that some of us struggle with more than others.
Here are some strategies to help your child with self regulation:
The foods we eat have a huge role to play in our emotions and our cognitive functions. Try to avoid processed foods and simple sugars which can negatively effect the gut bacteria (which have a surprising connection to our brain’s emotional centers) and which can increase stress hormones in the body. Have a diet rich in whole, clean foods, complex carbohydrates, and proteins.
The Canadian Pediatric Society recommends a maximum of 1-2 hours of combined screen time daily for ages 5-17 and less for younger children. Excess screen time has been shown to create sleep problems, and is connected to difficulties with managing emotions and behaviors. Screen time should be avoided for 2 hours before bed to minimize sleep disruptions.
Children thrive off of knowing what to expect and with a routine that creates predictability and comfort in their day. Children should have regular bed times, as much as possible, as this can help with getting enough sleep, which is recommended to be around 11-14 hours for toddlers, 10-13 hours for preschoolers, and 9-12 hours for grade schoolers, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Modeling Regulated Behavior
Children are more likely to be able to regulate if they have parents who model regulated behavior. Be aware of your own needs and triggers and practice calming strategies for yourself. Make sure you are taking the time and are getting the support you need to take care of your own mental health. Talk to your child about strategies that you use for yourself.
Exercise and movement throughout each day are important to help the body systems regulate and to help our higher cognitive functions work at their best. Activities that use the muscles, use the body against resistance (pushing, pulling, carrying), or are repetitive and patterned are extra regulating for the nervous system. Generally an activity with a goal or purpose will be more calming than random movement. See https://www.littlebirdot.com/post/heavy-work-activities, https://yourkidstable.com/heavy-work-activities/ or https://beaconhouse.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Brainstem-Calmer-Activities.pdf for some ideas.
Mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment nonjudgmentally. It is a powerful tool to help children pay attention to their thoughts, feelings and sensations, and control impulses to these things. Check out https://positivepsychology.com/mindfulness-for-children-kidsactivities/, https://copingskillsforkids.com/blog/simple-ways-to-introduce-mindfulness-and-meditation-to-children, https://annakaharris.com/mindfulness-for-children/ , headspace.com or Susan Kaiser Greenland’s “Mindful Games Activity Cards” for some ideas.
Yoga, like mindfulness, gets kids to pay attention to what their body is doing, to their breath, and to learn to be still. It also gives good calming proprioceptive input (using the muscles against gravity), and helps with integration of the body, and therefore brain, sides. Check out https://awakeandmindful.com/best-kids-yoga-videos-on-youtube/ for links to yoga videos, https://www.kidsyogastories.com/kids-yoga-poses/ for a bunch of poses, or purchase yoga activity cards such as “Yoga Pretzels”.
Martial arts require a lot of focus and control of the body. They help children channel their energy into controlled use of their body and mind. They can be a powerful tool to help children learn to regulate.
Games and activities that develop Executive Functioning
Executive functioning involves impulse control, flexible thinking, and working memory. Check out https://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/activities-guide-enhancing-and-practicing-executive-function-skills-with-children-from-infancy-to-adolescence/ for tons of games and activities to help boost these skills, divided by age. Some examples are games that require controlling the body such as freeze dance, musical chairs, or red light green light; quick response games such as “bop it” or slap jack; memory games; puzzles and strategic board games.
Sensory Calming Strategies
Use the senses to help calm your over stimulated child, or have a “calm down kit” or calm space at home with different sensory tools they can use themselves. Some examples of typically calming tools are: deep pressure (hugs, being squished under pillows or a weighted blanket, rolling up in blankets), massage, slow rocking, calming scents such as lavender, vanilla, or eucalyptus, blowing bubbles, quiet music with a steady beat, hand held massager, calm jar, moon sand, dark tent, or squeezing putty or a nee doh ball. Sometimes intense sensory input can distract a child who is upset or overwhelmed and bring them back to their body. Some examples are sucking on a piece of lemon, chewing mint gum, holding an ice pack, or jumping on a trampoline. Every child is different, so it may take some trial and error to find which sensory strategies are best for them. An assessment by an Occupational Therapist can help you understand your child's particular sensory needs and what tools work best for them. See https://www.littlebirdot.com/post/grounding-tools for some more ideas.
It wasn’t that long ago that humans were hunters and gatherers, worked outside in fields all day, or walked everywhere we went, and living in cities we are far removed from the natural world our ancestors lived in; and our bodies haven’t evolved much since then! We need to be getting outside in nature regularly, and there is growing evidence that just being in nature and especially having direct contact with the natural world (ie. walking with bare feet), has significant benefits for our mental health. In Japan they actually prescribe forest therapy! Getting your child out in nature has important physical and mental benefits, and doing nature based activities such as hikes, camping, rock climbing, and canoeing has the added benefits of physical exercise and overcoming challenges.
These are all examples of things we discuss with caregivers or utilize within individual or group sessions with kids at Little Bird. Feel free to contact us if wanting an assessment, sessions for your child to work on self regulation, or more information on the possible role of Occupational Therapy in your child's mental health.
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