Published on January 22, 2021

How to Help Your Child Develop Self Regulation Skills

How to Help Your Child Develop Self Regulation Skills

I was a ski instructor during college, and 95% of the lessons that I taught were with children. Often, they were group lessons with up to a dozen children in my charge at one time. Even twenty years later I can still recall the ten-year-old girl that whined, cried, and threw tantrums all day long in my maxed out class of 12 children.

We had a bunny hill for learning, and she would screech in a whiny voice that her skis were not going the direction she was wanting them to go every time she skied down the small hit. That would be followed by her throwing herself in a mound of snow at the base of hill and wailing. It was an awful day as an instructor. I still wonder why her parents put her in the class if they knew she had this kind of behavior. My guess is that they wanted to ski by themselves and didn’t care if she learned to ski. It was simply the most available childcare at the resort.

I was a psychology undergrad student at that time, and I knew that her behavior was not normal. Looking back at the situation, she did not appear to be autistic as her social skills were quite adept. She is a perfect example of a child who lacks good self-regulation skills.

What Is Self-Regulation?

Self-regulation skills include a child’s ability to manage their emotions and behaviors in different situations. “It is related to emotional control and planning as well as the control of one’s own behavior.”[1]

If your child doesn’t win a board game, do they throw a tantrum or pout more than other children their age? Does your child become enraged or completely lose their cool when they can’t find something, such as their shoes or backpack, before school? Does your child habitually fight with their siblings or other children when they don’t get something they want, such as a toy?

If you answered yes to any of the above or feel that your child may be lacking in self-regulations skills, then keep reading. This article will provide you with tips on how to help your child with the development of self-regulation skills. It is imperative that children get help with these skills sooner than later, as research has shown that lack of self regulation early in life can lead to greater problems in the future, such as difficulties in school.[2]

Tips to Help Your Child Develop Self-Regulation Skills

1. Discuss Self-Regulation in Their Terms

“He made me do it!” my kids have said of one another many a times. They are usually defending their own bad behavior. An older sister may hit a younger brother because he spit on her, and her defense is that he made her hit him because he spit on her first.

This is the way a child’s mind works. It is up to parents to explain to their children that each person has control over their own actions and reactions. Children need to understand that self-regulation and control over their emotions and behaviors takes time and practice.


This conversation about self-regulation and self-control is not a one time occurrence. It is something parents should be discussing with their children regularly.

Talk to your child using terms that they understand. If you are working with your toddler on self-regulation, then you will need to convey things very simply. You can talk about how if they throw a tantrum in the grocery store, it means that they don’t get to go to the playground that afternoon. Remind the child of the consequence before you even enter the store. Talk about what good behavior looks like and that their reward will be playing in the park after shopping.

Teaching self-regulation skills should start early in life. Toddlers can begin to learn basic self-regulation through consequences. These consequences and the expectations for their behavior should be explained in basic terms that are age appropriate.

For example: “If you hit your baby brother today, you will get no TV tonight.” Follow through with consequences, but also set reasonable expectations.

Toddlers also need reminders often and to be talked to eye-to-eye on their level. Self-regulation skills are very difficult for toddlers, but it is teachable time.

2. Help Your Child Set Goals

Goals help to direct behavior. If your child sets a goal of getting an A in math, then their behavior can be directed toward that goal. Rather than playing video games after school, they may be more likely to get their math homework done if they have a genuine goal set for getting an A in math.

Behavior is regulated by goals, according to research,[3]. If an individual doesn’t have any set goals, then the behavior will likely have less regulation or direction towards a positive purpose.

Helping your child set reasonable goals that they can be passionate about can help their self-regulation. For example, if your child has a difficult time waking up each morning, then talk about setting a goal of them getting to bed by a specific time each night so they don’t have groggy mornings.


You can help them make a chart of this goal, so they can track their progress. After a few weeks of successfully achieving the goal, you can then discuss with them how their life has improved with more sleep and a set time of going to bed.

Only you know where your child needs improvements in self-regulation. Once you target the areas that need improvement, then help them to set goals that work toward better self-regulation skills.

Self-regulation is integral to life success through goal setting. In a research article that supports goal-setting and self-regulation, the following was stated:

Self-regulation also involves setting and reaching goals. To succeed in life, people must manage themselves effectively, which involves setting appropriate goals and then making themselves carry out the steps to achieve them. Often this involves persisting in the face of failures or setbacks. Self-regulation is crucial for enabling people to do this.[4]

3. Give Them Choices

A child who has good self-regulation will be able to see potential options in a situation, weigh each option, and make a determination of the best choice. Children who are always told what to do, how to do it, and when to do it may end up with poor self-regulation because they aren’t allowed the opportunity to practice making decisions.

Children should be allowed to make simple choices throughout the day from a young age. For example, ask a toddler if they want milk or juice at snack time. It really doesn’t matter to the parent which choice is made, since they are both healthy options for the child.

The point is to create opportunities that allow choices in various situations, so that the child can learn to make their own choices and understand how decisions lead to consequences.

The choices and options should increase with their age. For example, asking a five year old which shoes they want to wear to school. They can make the choice. If they end up selecting rain boots and they discover at school that they are difficult to run in at recess time, then they will have learned a lesson through their own decision making. The lesson should help them make a better choice the next time.


This kind of choice-making opportunity helps a child to learn about planning and thinking ahead. Planning is an integral part of self-regulation.

4. Give Them Planning Opportunities

Planning helps a child to self regulate their behavior. “It [self regulation] is related to emotional control and planning as well as the control of one’s own behavior.”[5]

Planning how to react in a tough situation can help a child with self-regulation. If your child has a tendency toward lack of self-regulation in specific situations, then help them to plan ahead.

For example, if your child throws a tantrum when their little league baseball team loses a game, then help them plan ahead. Discuss how they will act if they win and how they will react if they lose. You can talk to them about how they have a choice to make about their behavior in that moment.

Help them to plan ahead for the decisions that they must make in tough situations. When they make bad choices or plan poorly, it is also an opportunity for you to discuss how they could do things differently next time.

5. Play!

Play helps children to develop self-regulation skills. One such way, as proven in research, is “children learn to inhibit their impulsive behavior and follow rules which transform their behavior from impulsive and spontaneous to mediated and voluntary.”[6].

For example, when children are playing a game with their peers, they learn to follow the rules. They will find out quickly that if they don’t follow the rules or if they cheat, their peers will react. They may be kicked out of the game or they may be scolded by their peers. Play gives them the opportunity to practice self-regulation in real life scenarios that children can understand.

6. Model Good Self-Regulation Skills

A child watches their parents and caregivers. They will watch to see what kind of behavior is modeled. That is part of human development. Children watch, learn, and imitate those around them.


Therefore, parents and caregivers must be aware of their own self0regulation skills.

How do you react when things don’t go your way in life? Do you raise your voice and curse? Are you impulsive, or do you take a moment to pause and make the best decision possible in every situation? Do you plan ahead and make good choices?

Children learn from us. We must make an effort to practice good self-regulation skills, so that our children can learn positive self regulation from us.

Final Thoughts

Circling back to the story at the start of this article, I want to address the situation with the girl who had no self-regulation skills apparent that particular day. Perhaps if her parents had helped her to set a goal of learning to ski that day and discussed how she should behave in class so she could maximize the learning opportunity, she may have acted better.

However, in her case, her behaviors were so far from normal self-regulation that she probably would have required professional intervention (counseling or behavior modification therapy) to behave in a normal manner in a group ski lesson.

If you have ever seen a ten-year-old child who acts like a two year old, then you too have seen how important the development of self-regulation skills are in life. The older the child gets, the more difficult it is to change set behaviors.

Help your child learn good self regulation starting as a toddler, and continue teaching them as they learn and grow.

More on Positive Behaviors in Children

Featured photo credit: MI PHAM via



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Dr. Magdalena Battles

A Doctor of Psychology with specialties include children, family relationships, domestic violence, and sexual assault

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Published on August 26, 2021

How to Get Kids to Listen And Respect You

How to Get Kids to Listen And Respect You

Do your kids listen to you the first time you ask them to do something? If not, then you may have to keep reading. Kids will truly listen when there is mutual respect between you and them. They will listen to you when they know that when you say something, you mean it.

Here are ten tips on how to get your kids to listen and respect you.

1. Show Mutual Respect

You can get kids to listen by demanding authority and ruling with an iron fist, but at what cost? You can yell and scream your kids into submission and obedience, but at what cost? The cost will be your relationship with your child in the long run, as resentments will form in them.

If you don’t show respect for your kids, it is going to be hard to get them to listen to you. They may obey, but if you act as a tyrant who demands that kids do what you say because you are the one in charge, then you are fighting a losing battle. The basis of your relationship must begin with respect. Mutual respect is the foundation for any relationship, including the parent-child relationship.

2. Avoid Yelling

When yelling and dominance are the themes of the relationship, then an undercurrent of resentment will develop in the child. Nobody wants to feel dominated, nor do they want to feel that they are of less value than another person.

Let your child know that you value them through respectful interactions. You are still the parent, but you can parent and get your kids to listen through respectful interaction. When you use demanding, authoritarian parenting methods, you are undermining your relationship with the child and resentments are likely to form.

Avoid yelling to gain respect from your child. If you fall back to yelling, screaming, and making demands, then you are undermining your ability to gain your child’s respect in the long run.


3. Use the Golden Rule

Respect is founded on the golden rule: treat others as you want to be treated. If you want your child to respect you, you must also treat them with respect. This means talking to your child in a tone that is kind, genuine, and considerate. Granted, this is not easy when your four-year-old is having a meltdown in aisle 5 of the grocery store and you have many more errands to run, work to do, and no extra time on hand. It takes practice to parent without yelling and heightened emotions.

We are still people and get mad at our kids. However, we have to keep in mind that they are learning and we have far more years of practice at these things. We must keep our cool and maintain authority while parenting.

How do you want to be talked to when you are having a bad day and feel like melting down? That is how you should talk to your child who is having a meltdown and is obviously having a bad day. Kindness, love, and respect, when paired with authority, will create a relationship where your child will listen and respect you. Treat them as you want to be treated.

4. Ensure that Your Words Have Consequences

We know that mutual respect is the first step to getting our kids to listen. This respect will help them be open to what we have to say. If they feel that they matter because you respect them, then they will develop respect for you. This will help when it comes to disciplining your child.

The second step is ensuring that our words have consequences. When it comes to discipline, your words must have weight. If you say you are going to do something, you must do it.

For example, if you ask your child to stop hitting the couch while you are typing an article for Lifehack and they keep hitting it, then let them know that if they don’t stop, they get a five-minute time-out. True story, this just happened. He stopped. Why did he stop? Because he knew I meant what I said. If he didn’t stop, he knew it would mean an immediate time out, not an additional warning and more time to carry on with the behavior that I asked him to stop.

I asked in a calm voice while looking into his eyes, letting him know I was serious. He also knows that I mean what I say because he is now seven years old and has experienced consistent follow-through with punishments for years. I don’t ask the same thing several times. I also don’t make threats. I follow through with reasonable punishments when the instructions and requests are not followed by my child.


5. Avoid Big Threats

I have seen parents make big threats, thinking that the bigger the threat, the more the child is likely to stop the behavior. This is not reasonable, nor is it a good idea. Big threats that you don’t follow through with make your words meaningless.

For example, if I had told my son that I was going to throw away his toys if he didn’t stop hitting the couch, that would have been unreasonable. Throwing away toys that cost a bit of money to buy as a consequence of a small infraction (hitting the couch while I am typing) is unreasonable. If he kept hitting the couch, what would I do? It would be unrealistic to actually throw away the toys.

Therefore, many parents in this instance keep making the same threat with no actual follow-through. The threats continue because the behavior continues and even escalates (i.e. the couch hitting gets louder and harder) and finally, the parent must throw away the toys and/or resorts to a different punishment to stop the escalation.

The escalation could have been avoided by stating realistic consequences and following through the first time. Time-outs and taking away a toy or a privilege are all reasonable. I often take away my kid’s tablet time or give five-minute time-outs as a consequence. I avoid making big threats that I cannot follow through with in good conscience. It helps me in the long run because when I give reasonable consequences, I can easily follow through with the punishment at that moment and not feel terrible.

Avoid making big threats that you cannot follow through with in good conscience. Instead, provide consequences with warnings and ensure that the punishment is worthy of the behavior. Small infractions should get small consequences. Big infractions require more serious consequences. Don’t make a habit of making big threats of big consequences that you can’t actually enforce.

6. Follow Through

A method of parenting where a parent follows through with their consequences immediately is called the “one ask approach.” In this method, a parent asks their child only once to do something. If they don’t do it, then the parent provides a consequence if they don’t do as asked.

For example, if you ask your child to put their dishes in the sink but they don’t get up and start doing the task, then the parent can let the child know the consequence if they don’t follow through with what was asked. If they don’t put away their dishes, they are going to lose half an hour of their TV time. They don’t get three warnings or even two. One warning is all that is provided. If they don’t follow instructions, then the consequence is dealt out.


In this example, if the child doesn’t put away their dishes after the warning is provided, then the parent follows through and says “I am sorry, but now you lost half of your TV time for tonight.” The parent must then not allow the child to watch TV and can suggest reading books or playing outside instead. This method will help you parent with consistency.

7. Give Them Your Full Attention

When you are speaking to your child look them in the eye and give them your full attention. This approach is much more fruitful in getting your child to listen than distracted, partial attention.

Case in point: if a parent is playing a game on their phone and yells across the room to have their child go do their homework, the interaction is less meaningful than making a face-to-face request. If the parent sets down their phone and walks over to their child and looks in their child’s eyes and says, “it is time to stop watching tv for now and do your homework, you can watch after your homework is finished,” it is much more likely to be fruitful because full attention is provided.

Giving your child your full attention with eye contact and face-to-face interactions shows them that you care and you are serious about what you are saying. This will go a long way toward getting your child to listen and respond to what you have to say.

8. Show Genuine Care

Showing that you care is immensely meaningful to any child. Your child needs to know that you care about them. Your words, actions, and tone of voice show that you care. If you care, be sure to show it.

For example, if I want my kids to set the table for dinner, yelling at them saying “you know its time for dinner, you should have set the table five minutes ago” will not be as productive as making a caring statement. Such a caring statement could be “you do a great job setting the dinner table. It is so nice to work together, with me making the meal and you setting the table so we can enjoy time together each night. Can you set the table in the next twenty minutes before dinner?”

Showing your child that you care will help build a positive relationship, and your child will be more likely to listen and respect you. Your words and actions in your daily interaction will show that you genuinely care for your child.


9. Show Them That You Value Them

Giving your child your full attention also shows them that you care and that they are valued. Everyone wants to feel valued. Our children should always feel that we value them.

Some ways that you can give your child attention and show that they are valued include the following:

  • Praise your child.
  • Give physical affections, such as hugs.
  • Show interest in their activities.
  • Get on their level when talking.
  • Make eye contact and smile while interacting.
  • Give positive feedback in your daily interactions.
  • Provide them with support in accomplishing daily activities (i.e. help your child tie their shoes and teach them at the same time as they are learning this task).
  • Build up your child with positive messages.
  • Reassure your child when they are fearful.
  • Support your child when they are upset.
  • Make time to spend with your child one on one daily.
  • Respond to your child every time they talk to you (do not ignore them).
  • Ask your child about their day with meaningful, open-ended questions.

According to the article, Positive Attention and Your Child,[1]

“From birth, children need experiences and relationships that show them they’re valued, capable human beings who bring pleasure to others. Positive attention, reactions and responses from key grown-ups help children build a picture of how valued they are.”

Children must be told and shown that they are valued. What we say and how we act toward our children should be done in a way that makes them consistently feel valued. This will help build a relationship where listening and respect go both ways.

10. Be a Good Role Model

To get your kids to listen and respect you, then you must also be a good role model worthy of respect. Kids watch their parents and caregivers and thus, will imitate their behavior.

Case in point: if you consistently object to figures of authority and do not follow rules or laws, then your child is observing and learning this from you. They will learn that they do not need to listen to or respect authority figures. Be an example that teaches your child to listen and respect others by your own behaviors and modeling.


The Bottom Line

The bottom line to teaching kids to listen and respect you is to treat them with respect and follow through with consequences. Your words must have weight, and this only happens when you are consistent with your follow-through. Treating your child with love, respect, care, and affection is important to creating a relationship where they want to listen to you and mutually respect you.

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Featured photo credit: Tanaphong Toochinda via


[1] Positive attention and your child

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