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 February 11, 2021

3 Positive Discipline Strategies That Are Best For Your Child

3 Positive Discipline Strategies That Are Best For Your Child

I’m old enough to remember how the cane at school was used for punishment. My dad is old enough to think that banning corporal punishment in schools resulted in today’s poorly disciplined youth. With all of this as my early experiences, there was a time when I would have been better assigned to write about how to negatively discipline your child.

What changed? Thankfully, my wife showed me different approaches for discipline that were very positive. Plus, I was open to learning.

What has not changed is that kids are full of problems with impulses and emotions that flip from sad to happy, then angry in a moment. Though we’re not that different as adults with stress, anxiety, lack of sleep, and stimulants such as sugar and caffeine in our diets.

Punishment as Discipline?

What this means is that we usually take the easy path when a child misbehaves and punish them. Punishment may solve an isolated problem, but it’s not really teaching the kids anything useful in the long term.

Probably it’s time for me to be clear about what I mean by punishment and discipline as these terms are often used interchangeably, but they are quite different.

Discipline VS. Punishment

Punishment is where we inflict pain or suffering on our child as a penalty. Discipline means to teach. They’re quite the opposite, but you’ll notice that teachers, parents, and coaches often confuse the two words.

So, as parents, we have to have clear goals to teach our kids. It’s a long-term plan—using strategies that will have the longest-lasting impact on our kids are the best use of our time and energy.

If you’re clear about what you want to achieve, then it becomes easier to find the best strategy. The better we are at responding when our kids misbehave or do not follow our guidance, the better the results are going to be.


3 Positive Discipline Strategies for Your Child

Stay with me as I appreciate that a lot of people who read these blogs do not always have children with impulse control. We’ve had a lot of kids in our martial arts classes that were the complete opposite. They had concentration issues, hyperactive, and disruptive to the other children.

The easy solution is to punish their parents by removing the kids from the class or punish the child with penalties such as time outs and burpees. Yes, it was tempting to do all of this, but one of our club values is that we pull you up rather than push you down.

This means it’s a long-term gain to build trust and confidence, which is destroyed by constant punishments.

Here are the discipline strategies we used to build trust and confidence with these hyperactive kids.

1. Patience

The first positive discipline strategy is to simply be patient. The more patient you are, the more likely you are to get results. Remember I said that we need to build trust and connection. You’ll get further with this goal using patience.

As a coach, sometimes I was not the best person for this role, but we had other coaches in the club that could step in here. As a parent, you may not have this luxury, so it’s really important to recognize any improvements that you see and celebrate them.

2. Redirection

The second strategy we use is redirection. It’s important with a redirection to take “no” out of the equation. Choices are a great alternative.

Imagine a scenario where you’re in a restaurant and your kid is wailing. The hard part here is getting your child to stop screaming long enough for you to build a connection. Most parents have calming strategies and if you practice them with your child, they are more likely to be effective.


In the first moment of calm, you can say “Your choice to scream and cry in public is not a good one. It would be best to say, Dad. What can I do to get ice-cream?” You can replace this with an appropriate option.

The challenge with being calm and redirecting is that we need to be clear-minded, focused, and really engaged at the moment. If you’re on your phone, talking with friends or family, thinking about work or the bills, you’ll miss this opportunity to discipline in a way that has long-term benefits.

3. Repair and Ground Rules

The third positive discipline strategy is to repair and use ground rules. Once you’ve given the better option and it has been taken, you have a chance to repair this behavior to lessen its occurrence to better yet, prevent it from happening again. And by setting appropriate ground rules, you can make this a long-term win by helping your child improve their behavior.

It’s these ground rules that help you correct the poor choices of your child and direct the behavior that you want to see.

Consequences Versus Ultimatums

When I was a child and being punished. My parents worked in a busy business for long hours, so their default was to go to ultimatums. “Do that again and you’re grounded for a week,” or “If I catch you doing X, you’ll go to bed without dinner”.

Looking back, this worked to a point. But the flip side is that I remembered more of the ultimatums than the happier times. I’ve learned through trial and error with my own kids that consequences are more effective while not breaking down trust.

What to Do When Ground Rules Get Broken?

It’s on the consequences that you use when the ground rules are broken.

In the martial arts class, when the hyperactive student breaks the ground rules. They would miss a turn in a game or go to the back of the line in a queue. We do not want to shame the child by isolating them. But on the flip side, there should be clear ground rules and proportionate consequences.


Yes, there are times when we would like to exclude the student from the class, the club, and even the universe. Again, it’s here that patience is so important and probably impulse control too. With an attainable consequence, you can maintain trust and you’re more likely to get the long-term behavior that you’re looking to achieve.

Interestingly, we would occasionally hear a strategy from parents that little Kevin has been misbehaving at home with his sister or something similar. He likes martial arts training, so the parent would react by removing Kevin from the martial arts class as a punishment.

We would suggest that this would remove Kevin from an environment where he is behaving positively. Removing him from this is likely to be detrimental to the change you would like to see. He may even feel shame when he returns to the class and loses all the progress he’s made.

Alternatives to Punishment

Another option is to tell Kevin to write a letter to his sister, apologizing for his behavior, and explaining how he is going to behave in the future.

If your child is too young to write, give the apology face to face. For the apology to feel sincere, there is some value to pre-framing or practicing this between yourself and your child before they give it to the intended person.

Don’t expect them to know the ground rules or what you’re thinking! It will be clearer to your child and better received with some practice. You can practice along the lines of: “X is the behavior I did, Y is what I should have done, and Z is my promise to you for how I’m going to act in the future.” You can replace XYZ with the appropriate actions.

It does not need to be a letter or in person, it can even be a video. But there has to be an intention to repair the broken ground rule. If you try these strategies, that is become fully engaged with them and you’re still getting nowhere.

But what to do if these strategies do not work? Then there is plenty to gain by seeking the help of an expert. Chances are that something is interfering or limiting their development.


This does not mean that your child has a neurological deficiency, although this may be the root cause. But it means that you can get an objective view and help on how to create the changes that you would like to see. Remember that using positive discipline strategies is better than mere punishment.

There are groups that you can chat with for help. Family Lives UK has the aim of ensuring that all parents have somewhere to turn before they reached a crisis point. The NSPCC also provides a useful guide to positive parenting that you can download.[1]

Bottom Line

So, there your go, the three takeaways on strategies you can use for positively disciplining your child. The first one is about you! Be patient, be present, and think about what is best for the long term. AKA, avoid ultimatums and punishment. The second is to use a redirect, then repair and repeat (ground rules) as your 3-step method of discipline.

Using these positive discipline strategies require you to be fully engaged with your child. Again, being impulsive breaks trust and you lose some of the gains you’ve both worked hard to achieve.

Lastly, consequences are better than punishment. Plus, avoid shaming, especially in public at all costs.

I hope this blog has been useful, and remember that you should be more focused on repairing bad behavior because being proactive and encouraging good behavior with rewards, fun, and positive emotions takes less effort than repairing the bad.

More Tips on How To Discipline Your Child

Featured photo credit: Leo Rivas via


[1] NSPCC Learning: Positive parenting

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