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How to Teach Self-Regulation

Parenting has always been tricky. The trends on how to respond to behaviors are always evolving. We’ve all heard stories about the grandfather that would spank his kids. My mom loathed any form of physical discipline, thank you mom, but there was still a lot of reactivity on her end. My sons early years were all about time out. Ignore the behavior and it will go away. We had a pack n play that we joked was baby jail. You do the crime, you do the time. But was that really effective? Did his little brain realize the chosen impulsive behavior was the reason he was sitting there? Or was he longing to escape?

The things I know now that I didn’t know then. Most impulsive choices are fight or flight. Rooted in your brainstem. What behavior would you have in baby jail? Probably brain stem rooted fight or flight.

Thankfully things are changing. We are starting to teach our kiddos even at a young age to try to identify what they are feeling. Naming the emotion whether it’s anger, frustration, sadness, excitement is the first step. I know an amazing therapist that always says emotions are the big box of crayons.

Spend a day with them labeling cards with a big box of crayons ;) with every emotion they can think of. Probably a rainy day. Then pick another day to talk about healthy ways to show those big feelings. What age should we start? Amazingly at 2-3yo kids can start to identify feelings. Use examples from your own life. Doing yoga while the sun comes up at Northshore Park always centers me. So ask if taking a big breath would help? Maybe doing some stretches? Often playing with a sensory toy will calm a child quicker than a time out.

The amazing thing that happens when we shift from reacting to processing is we start to use the front part of our brain. It’s the part that allows us to focus. It promotes healthy development. And the other really helpful part of this is we do the same.

Our parenting strategies are deeply rooted in our subconscious from our childhood. Having a plan on identifying feelings and expressing them in a healthy way gives us a new tools to help our kids and ourselves.

So if your child is older is it too late? Absolutely not. Open conversions about impulsive choices are really difficult. We want to protect our kids. Raising our voices as if they were about to cross a busy street seems like the safest thing to do. But is that just our fight or flight??

If we give them a safe space to process the not so great decisions they can try to find what the feelings were behind it. And maybe how to navigate those big emotions in a healthier way.

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