by Joanna Atherfold Finn

What’s On In Our Backyard spoke to Occupational Therapist and Founder of Homebase Hope Rhiannon Crispe to find out.

As Rhiannon explains, we are not born with the ability to self regulate. It is something that has to be taught.

“Self regulation is our ability to control emotional and behavioural reactions to everyday stressors,” Rhiannon said.

“It is absolutely fundamental to our day to day success. If a child has a poor ability to self regulate, they have to work really hard in order to deal with everyday situations such as being told ‘no’, getting ready in the morning or turning off electronic devices.”

The harder children have to work in order to cope with these situations, the less resources they have to learn, pay attention, share and take turns, and maintain self-control.

“We’ll often see kids between the ages of one and three (sometimes older) have tantrums because they haven’t worked out how to deal with their big emotions.

“As we grow up, we learn that taking a deep breath when we’re anxious or clenching our fist really tight when we’re angry are great ways to regulate our emotions before we tip over the edge and lose control.”

There are some key indicators that can help parents identify whether a child may benefit from self regulation techniques.

“If you find that everyday activities are emotionally draining for your child compared to other kids their age, they may be having difficulties with self regulation,” Rhiannon said.

“A child with self regulation challenges may have difficulty calming down, focusing on a task, controlling their impulses, managing frustration and disappointment and transitioning from one activity to another.”

Before commencing self regulation strategies, Rhiannon stresses the importance of reframing your thinking around the behaviour.

“Your child’s behaviour is a sign that they’re not coping. There is always a reason underlying the behaviour – and it’s your job to be the detective and figure it out.

“It’s of no benefit to go in guns blazing and discipline them. This just adds fuel to the fire. We need to come from a place of understanding and instead of thinking that they’re defiant or naughty, we need to ask ourselves: ‘What is the cause of their stress’ and ‘How can I help?’”

Although saying ‘calm down’ seems like the obvious response, Rhiannon argues that this is not at all helpful.

“What we need to do is give them the tools and strategies in order to experience calmness and then teach them how to do this themselves. The goal is for them to regulate their emotions and behaviours independently, but until they can do this, you will need to guide them.”

There are many ways to help a child self regulate and it comes down to the individual child and what works for them.

“Each child is unique and responds to different strategies in different ways,” Rhiannon said.