How do children learn to self-regulate?

At Cooee Speech Pathology, our Brisbane north Occupational Therapists work with kids and their families to help children develop their self-regulation skills. 

What is self-regulation? 


Self-regulation is a child’s ability to understand and manage their behaviour, emotions, attention and energy levels appropriate for a given situation in a socially acceptable way. This can include being able to control impulses, calm down after something upsetting or exciting, attend to and focus on tasks, and regulate reactions to their emotions. For example, this might look like being able to sit and listen to a teacher in the classroom. 


Why is self-regulation important? 


These skills are important as they allow children to:

  • Cope with strong feelings, stressful or difficult situations, and give them the ability to calm themselves down.
  • Learn at school as they are able to sit, attend and listen in the classroom.
  • Behave in socially acceptable ways as they are able to control their impulses, share with their peers, turn-take and express their emotions in appropriate ways.
  • Become independent where they can regulate themselves without adult intervention.


If a child has difficulty with their ability to control their behaviour and emotions it could result in decreased social skills, becoming easily frustrated or upset to the point they find it difficult to move on, or ongoing difficulty with concentration. This can impact their ability to maintain relationships, and make learning in the classroom and or completing daily activities more difficult.


How can I tell if my child is having difficulty with their self-regulation? 


If a child has difficulties with their self-regulation they may:

  • Have difficulty regulating their own behaviour and their emotional responses 
  • Have tantrums that last longer or are more frequent than expected
  • Have poor attention, concentration and or are easily distracted
  • Have difficulty transitioning between tasks or accepting changes in their routine
  • Difficulty staying on one task for an extended period of time
  • Have rapidly fluctuating emotional levels within a short period of time
  • Appear disinterested or ‘in their own world’
  • Have heightened or underactive responses to sensory input (eg movement, touch, sound) 
  • Have difficulty sustaining friendships and engaging with their peers


From time to time, different things can affect a child’s ability to self-regulate and this can impact their ability to effectively manage their behaviour and feelings. For instance, when changes are made to their routines, they are feeling tired or hungry or facing new experiences. While they are learning to master this skill, regular fluctuations in their response are expected. However, when this occurs frequently  and they have difficulty managing their responses across a number of settings where it begins to impact their daily life and their academic performance, this might be a sign they could benefit from extra help in learning this skill. 


If you have any concerns about your child’s self-regulation, please do not hesitate to contact our lovely client care team on 3265 4495 or chat to one of our occupational therapists .

Helena Manicaros

Occupational Therapist