If you are a parent of a two-year-old, chances are that you witness a couple of tantrums in a day. But if your child has reached school-going age and you still have to deal with frequent meltdowns, it may be a sign that your child might be having some difficulty with self-regulation.
But before I go any further, we need to understand what exactly self-regulation is.
What is self-regulation?
Managing your emotions and behaviour according to the circumstances is known as self- regulation. It includes resisting emotional reactions and calming yourself when you are upset. It is about adjusting yourself to change and learning how to handle failure without melting down. It is basically a skill that enables you to manage your own behavior in response to an event, despite what others feel about it.
Why do some kids struggle with self-regulation?
According to child psychologists, a child’s inborn ability for self-regulation is based on personality and temperament and you can gauge this even from the day they are born. Some babies have trouble soothing themselves and get upset when you are trying to change their clothes or bathe them. These children are more likely to have trouble with self-regulation when they are older.
Having said that, the environment can also play a vital role. If a parent gives in to meltdowns or over soothes their child when he/she is upset, that child may lack self-discipline. And if this happens frequently, there is a strong possibility that such children will make this into a habit and will depend on others to help them calm down.
Also, children suffering from mental disorders such as anxiety or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) find it more challenging to manage their emotions, and need extra help to develop self-regulating skills.
How to teach children self-regulation?
In the midst of a meltdown, parents need to help the child slow down and carefully choose an effective way out instead of being impulsive. Practicing ‘scaffolding’ (the behaviour you want to encourage until they can handle challenges on their own) is the right approach to teach self- regulation.
If a child is prone to tantrums when he/she is asked to stop playing on the iPad for example, scaffolding might be helpful to distract him by taking a break. Ask him to go and have some water, let him play for a few more minutes and then ask him patiently to hand over the iPad to you. Offer encouragement or praise or even a simple “Thank you” every time he/she does it without melting down.
It is also better to approach self-regulation the same way as we approach other skills. When you think of it as a skill to be learnt rather than a ‘bad’ behaviour that needs to be corrected, it changes everything – your tone, expression and physical reaction.
Most importantly, in order to teach your children self-regulating skills, never avoid situations that are generally difficult for them to handle. Instead, coach them and provide a supportive framework until they are ready to face these kind of challenges on their own.
Parents often get frustrated when things don’t go as planned when trying to build self -regulation skills in their children. Teaching age-appropriate coping mechanisms and being consistent will help you and your child develop the skill. Even if you don’t see immediate results, don’t give up; try approaching things that are more doable and slowly give your child independence to handle it.
Remember, patience is key when helping your children develop vital skills that will aid them throughout their life!