Learning to Self Regulate in the Early Years

As it was World Mental Health Day on Sunday, today’s extended learning blog will look at self-regulation.
Self-regulation is how we react and control our emotions – a skill we aren’t born with.

Children have to learn how to understand, process and control what they’re thinking, and as caregivers we play a huge role in this. So how can we help? First, we need to give children a helping hand to understand their emotions before they can learn to self-regulate. Here are some of the ways we do this at Nursery:


Provide emotional warmth and security

By forming an attachment to a key person at Nursery, children can feel free to be themselves and to play and explore from a safe base.

Control and cognitive challenge

Children learn best when they try to make sense of things. At Nursery we gently assist learning without interfering, letting them take learning into their own hands.


Opportunity to speak and reflect
Children develop internal thought processes when they speak their thoughts out loud as they carry out actions. The interactions children have with others at Nursery are paramount, so we gently encourage children to take control and persevere with different strategies.

Now we know that building self-regulation skills can only happen when children feel safe, secure, and motivated, how can you extend this learning at home?


Name, validate and understand a child’s emotion
Tell your child exactly what the emotion they’re having is called, and that it’s completely okay. This is vital, as you can’t expect a child to self-regulate without a helping hand. You can say: “I understand that that scares you, and that’s ok. That’s what we call fear.”


Children need a safe, quiet, and calming space

Create a dedicated ‘self-regulation corner’ at home. The space should be cosy, calm and quiet with blankets and cushions where they can practise deep breathing. You can ask your child if they would like to go the self-regulation corner to process and deal with their outburst. To teach your child to take big calming breaths, have them lay down on their back and put a teddy on their tummy. Ask them to breathe in and move the teddy up, then breathe out and bring the animal back down.

There are other ways you can extend the learning. If a child is scared of a clown, for example, can you plan games and activities around the figure of a clown? Can you talk about clowns as a family? This all plays a role in allowing the child to understand the emotions behind their fear, and to show them that you are there to support them.

Older children may benefit from engaging in mindfulness. Mindfulness is the awareness that arises from paying attention to the present moment, enabling us to put some space between ourselves and our reaction. Learning skills such as focused breathing and gratitude leads to better focus and feelings of calmness and relaxation. There are lots of apps you can try; Headspace has different exercises customized for three age groups: 5 and under, 6-8 and 9-12: headspace.com/meditation/kids

By making sure we respond to your child’s emotions in a nurturing and understanding manner, we can help raise an empathetic and caring adult.

Ask at your local library or bookshop for books that help introduce children of all ages to some of the bigger, scarier emotions. This gives you a way to explore and process these feelings together. Do let us know how you get on.

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