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 May 21, 2021

Bedtimes For Kids At Different Ages (Your Go-To Guide)

Bedtimes For Kids At Different Ages (Your Go-To Guide)

Bedtimes for kids might be one of the most challenging parts of the day. Parents are tired and ready to relax, while kids of all ages seem to find extra energy and want nothing to do with sleep. One more story, one more trip to the bathroom, and one more question quickly make for a late-night, and no one gets the rest they need.

If this happens often, you might start wondering if you and your child are getting the proper amount of sleep and how to make bedtime easier. Why is it so crucial for your child to get enough sleep? What does sleep deprivation look like? How do you improve bedtimes for kids?

How Sleep Impacts Your Child’s Health

Whether young or old, sleep is a vital part of staying healthy. There are many benefits to getting the right amount of sleep while not getting enough can have negative consequences. How does it impact your child?[1]

  • Brain Function – Sleep is linked to certain brain functions such as concentration, productivity, and cognition. These all impact a child’s behavior and academic success.
  • Weight – Sleep patterns affect the hormones responsible for appetite. A lack of sleep interferes with the ability to regulate food intake, making overeating more likely.
  • Physical Performance – Sleep impacts a person’s physical abilities. Proper rest means better performance, concentration, energy, mental clarity, and faster speed.
  • Physical Health – There are many ways sleep promotes health. Sleep heals the body but also helps prevent disease and health issues. Getting proper rest will regulate blood pressure, help prevent heart disease, reduce chances of sleep apnea, reduce inflammation, boost immune system, and lower risk of weight gain.
  • Improve Mental Health – A lack of sleep has a negative impact on mood and social and emotional intelligence. A child not getting proper sleep is more likely to experience depression, lack empathy and be unaware of other people’s emotions and reactions.

Sleep, Risky Behavior, and Teens

Studies found that teens were more likely to engage in risky behavior when they are sleep-deprived. They’ll have problems regulating their mood, making them more short-tempered, aggressive, and impulsive. Their inability to self-regulate can even look like the symptoms of ADHD.[2]

Sleep deprivation becomes hazardous when teens are driving. The impulsiveness and risk-taking, along with exhaustion, put them at a higher risk for accidents. In fact, driving tired is comparable to driving with a blood alcohol content of .08.[3]


You can see why sleep is so essential to everyone’s health, but how much is needed? What do pediatricians recommend? Is it the same for all ages?

Sleep Recommendations From Pediatricians

Sleep requirements vary by age. It won’t be the same for every individual. Some people find that they need more sleep than others.

Here is a basic guideline of what pediatricians now recommend:[4]

  • Ages 4-12 months: 12-16 hours (including naps)
  • Ages 1-2 years: 11-14 hours (including naps)
  • Ages 3-5 years: 10-13 hours (including naps)
  • Age 6-12 years: 9-12 hours
  • Age 13-18 years: 8-10 hours

Increase the amount of sleep if your child isn’t thriving on the recommended amount.

Signs Your Child Isn’t Getting Enough Sleep

There are ways to tell if your child is getting adequate sleep beyond the usual grumpiness. Here are specific things to watch out for:[5]


  • Excessive sleepiness during the day
  • Difficulty waking up on time
  • Hyperactivity
  • Depression
  • Inattention
  • Mood swings
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Irritability
  • Impatience
  • Impulse control

As you can see, prolonged lack of sleep can cause relational problems and hinder your child’s ability to do well in school. What can you do if you realize your child is not getting enough sleep? How can you improve bedtimes for your kids?

How to Set Up a Bedtime Routine

Sleep hygiene or a bedtime schedule will help your child fall asleep faster. It will also improve the quality of sleep. You will need to adjust to what works for your family, but the following suggestions can help everyone have a more pleasant bedtime.

For Babies

Most people think they have to let their baby “cry it out” at bedtime. However, there are ways you can teach a baby to sleep without tears, making the experience more pleasant for everyone. In fact, studies show the faded bedtime method—or gentle sleep training—is just as effective as leaving a baby to cry but without the stress.[6] What is gentle sleep training?

Gentle Sleep Training

This method eases babies and young children into falling asleep on their own. There are two ways to do this:

1. Positive Routines With Faded Bedtime

Kids learn to fall asleep easily by using comforting, quiet, and predictable rituals, up to twenty minutes long. The key is to choose a bedtime that’s not too early. A child that isn’t tired will only fight sleep.


Start the process when your baby or child is sleepy, even if it’s later than you’d prefer. You’ll notice a pattern and quickly discover the time they naturally start winding down. Make this their bedtime for now. They will learn to associate sleep with the routine, and you’ll be able to start fifteen to twenty minutes earlier to slowly adjust their schedule.

2. Sleep With Parental Presence

With this method, you lie down with your baby or child until they fall asleep. Over time, you pay less attention to your child, gradually sitting up, then sitting in a chair. Eventually, your child will be able to sleep without you. A study showed that using this method helped infants sleep longer and wake up less.[7]

Both of these ways take time but are effective and less traumatic than leaving an infant or young child to cry.

More Tips to Help Your Baby Sleep Better

You want to build a routine, but how? What are practical things you can do to help your baby get ready for bed?

Here are tips for a soothing and calm bedtime:[8]


  • Help set their “internal clock” by exposing them to natural daylight, daytime activities, and the calmness of evening.
  • Block blue light exposure.
  • Make the hour up to bedtime calm, peaceful, and pleasant.
  • Learn how to keep stress minimal for you and your baby.
  • Don’t force sleep. It will increase anxiety and make rest more difficult.
  • Avoid late afternoon naps
  • Prolong the time between nap and bedtime.
  • Feed baby right before bed.
  • Avoid intervening too soon if the baby starts to wake up. Give your child a chance to fall back asleep without your help.

For Elementary-Aged Children

It’s easier to follow a routine if you start young, but it’s never too late to begin. The good news is it only takes a few nights to notice an improvement in your child’s sleep.

These ideas will help you set up a schedule that will encourage your child to fall asleep easier, faster, and for a more extended period.[9]

  • Offer them a nutritious snack.
  • Bathe them.
  • Brush their teeth and go to the bathroom.
  • Read them a story.
  • Sing them a song.
  • Cuddle or massage them.
  • Talk about the day.

For best results, choose a handful of activities and do them in the same order each night. Dim the lights and keep activity minimal to help everyone slow down.

For Teens

They might fight the idea of getting more sleep, but teens will benefit from a routine, too. They’re usually capable of overseeing their bedtime, but a little structure and oversight can help them get the sleep they need. By implementing the following tips, your teen can get better rest.[10]

  • Avoid caffeine in the evening.
  • Limit screen time.
  • Avoid late-night binging.
  • Exercise, ideally sixty minutes a day.
  • Keep the bedroom dark, cool, and quiet.
  • Talk through problems.

Quality Sleep for a Healthy Life

Bedtimes for kids can be an enjoyable part of the day with proper sleep hygiene in place. Not only can it be quality time with your child, but it can also set them on the road to good health and high performance. By implementing these tips, you can ensure proper rest for the whole family and better bedtimes for kids.


Featured photo credit: Igordoon Primus via


[1] Medical News Today: Why Sleep Is Essential For Health
[2] Child Mind Institute: Teens And Sleep: The Cost Of Sleep Deprivation
[3] Depart of Health: Drowsy Driving Prevention, Teens Ages 16 To 19
[4] AAP publications: AAP Endorses New Recommendations On Sleep Times
[5] Journal of Excellence in Nursing Leadership: Sleep Deprivation In Children A Growing Public Health Concern
[6] Parenting Science: Gentle Infant Sleep Training
[7] BetterHealth: Solutions to sleep concerns (11) – babies 6 to 12 months
[8] Parenting Science: 15 Evidence-Based Baby Sleep Tips
[9] Sleep Foundation: Bedtime Routines For Children
[10] NHS: Sleep Tips For Teenagers

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