How to Develop and Practice Self-Regulation

Self-control can be described in a variety of ways. Controlling one’s actions, emotions, and thoughts in the pursuit of long-term goals is the most basic definition.

Emotional self-regulation, more particularly, refers to the ability to control disruptive emotions and impulses.
To put it another way, think before you act. It also represents your ability to bounce back from setbacks and act in ways that are consistent with your core ideals.

What Is Self-Regulation?

A child’s capacity to regulate their emotions and actions in various settings is referred to as self-regulation abilities. “It has something to do with emotional management and planning, as well as self-control.”

Do your kids throw tantrums or sulk more than other kids their age if they don’t win a board game? When your child can’t locate something, such as their shoes or backpack, before school, does he or she grow upset or lose their cool?

When your child doesn’t get what they want, such as a toy, does he or she quarrel with their siblings or other children?

Related: The “Terrible Twos”: 5 Survival Tips for Parents

Continue reading if you responded yes to any of the following questions or believe your child may be deficient in self-control abilities. This article will provide you with suggestions on how to assist your child in developing self-control abilities.

It is critical that children receive assistance with these abilities as soon as possible, as research has shown that a lack of self-control early in life can lead to more serious problems later in life, such as academic challenges.

1. Development of Self-Regulation

Your ability to self-regulate as an adult is rooted in your childhood growth. Learning to self-regulate is a crucial skill for children’s emotional maturity as well as later social connections.

In an ideal setting, a tantruming toddler develops into a child who learns to accept unpleasant feelings without throwing a tantrum and eventually into an adult who can manage impulses to act on those feelings.
In essence, maturity refers to the ability to deal calmly and thoughtfully with emotional, social, and cognitive dangers in the environment. It’s no coincidence that this description reminds you of mindfulness—mindfulness is indeed relatable.

2. Why Self-Regulation is Important

Self-regulation entails pausing between a sensation and an action—thinking things out, making a strategy, and waiting calmly. Adults and children alike may struggle with these behaviors.

It’s easy to see how a lack of self-control can lead to troubles in life. A child who yells or punches other children out of irritation will not be popular with his or her friends and may receive school reprimands.

Adults with weak self-control may lack self-confidence and self-esteem, as well as have difficulty managing stress and irritation.

This is frequently manifested as anger or worry, and in more severe circumstances, this person may be labeled with a mental disorder.

Self-control is also crucial since it allows you to act in accordance with your firmly held principles or social conscience while also allowing you to express yourself correctly. If you place a high value on academic accomplishment, you will study rather than slack off before an exam.

Even if you are on a tight deadline yourself, if you value assisting others, you will be able to assist a coworker with a project.

Self-regulation, in its most basic form, helps us to recover from failure while remaining calm under pressure.

3. Common Self-Regulation Problems

What factors contribute to self-control issues? It could begin as early as when an infant is ignored. A youngster who does not feel safe and secure, or who is unsure if his or her needs will be addressed, may have difficulty calming down and self-regulating.

Later in life, a child, teen, or adult may struggle with self-control, either because this capacity was not formed during childhood or because there aren’t enough strategies for dealing with tough emotions.

If left unchecked, this can lead to more significant problems like mental health illnesses and dangerous behaviors like substance misuse.

4. Effective Strategies for Self-Regulation

Why, if self-regulation is so crucial, was it never taught to most of us how to use it? Parents, teachers, and other adults frequently expect their children to “grow out of” their tantrum phase.

While this is generally true, all children and adults can benefit from learning concrete self-regulation methods.


Mindfulness, according to Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, pioneer of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), is “consciousness that develops from paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

Mindfulness allows us to put some space between ourselves and our reactions by practicing techniques like focused breathing and gratitude, which leads to improved focus and feelings of calmness and relaxation.

Mindfulness was found to improve attention in a 2019 analysis of 27 research articles, which assisted to manage negative emotions and executive performance (higher-order thinking).

Cognitive Reappraisal

Another method for improving self-regulation abilities is cognitive reappraisal or cognitive reframing. This method entails altering your cognitive processes.

Cognitive reappraisal, in particular, is reinterpreting a circumstance in order to alter your emotional response to it.

Consider the case of a friend who has not returned your calls or texts for several days. Rather than interpreting this as a reflection of yourself, such as “my friend despises me,” you might think, “my friend must be extremely busy.”

Using cognitive reappraisal in everyday life has been linked to having more positive and fewer negative emotions, according to research.

Researchers discovered cognitive reappraisal to be associated with daily positive emotions, such as feelings of enthusiasm, happiness, satisfaction, and excitement, in a 2016 study examining the link between self-regulation strategies (i.e., mindfulness, cognitive reappraisal, and emotion suppression) and emotional well-being.

Acceptance and problem-solving are two more useful self-regulation skills. Avoidance, diversion, denial, and worrying, on the other hand, are unproductive methods that people sometimes employ.

5. Qualities of Self-Regulators

The benefits of self-regulation are numerous. In general, people who are adept at self-regulating tend to possess the following abilities:

  • Acting in a way that is consistent with their principles
  • When they’re upset, they try to calm down.
  • When they are down, they cheer themselves up.
  • Keeping lines of communication open
  • Perseverance in the face of adversity
  • They are giving it their all.
  • Flexibility and adaptability in the face of adversity
  • recognising the positive qualities in others
  • Keeping their ambitions in the open
  • When required, taking command of situations
  • Seeing obstacles as opportunity

6. Putting Self-Regulation Into Practice

You undoubtedly believe that being good at self-regulation sounds fantastic, but you have no idea how to develop your abilities.

Routines can aid in the development of self-regulation in youngsters (e.g., set certain mealtimes, have a set of behaviors for each activity). Routines assist youngsters in learning what to expect, making it easier for them to feel at ease.

Ignore their requests when they act in ways that don’t display self-control, such as making them wait if they interrupt a conversation.

The first step in practicing self-regulation as an adult is to acknowledge that everyone has a choice in how they react to situations.

While it may appear that life has dealt you a lousy hand, it is how you respond to it that matters the most. What is the best way to learn how to self-regulate?

Recognize that you have three options in every situation: approach, avoidance, or attack. While it may appear that your behavior is beyond your control, it is not. Your emotions may lead you down one route, but you are more than your emotions.

The second step is to become conscious of your fleeting emotions. Do you have the desire to flee a bad situation? Do you want to lash out in rage at someone who has wronged you?

If you don’t notice how you’re feeling right away, pay attention to your body for hints. A quickly increased heart rate, for example, could indicate that you’re about to have a wrath or panic attack.

Begin to reclaim your equilibrium by focusing on your strongly held ideals rather than fleeting emotions. Look past your current discomfort to the bigger picture. Then act in a way that is consistent with self-control.

A Word From Verywell

Once you’ve learned this delicate balancing act, you will begin to self-regulate more often, and it will become a way of life for you. Developing self-regulation skills will improve your resilience and ability to face difficult circumstances in life.

However, if you find you are unable to teach yourself to self-regulate, consider visiting a mental health professional. The time with a trained therapist may be useful to implement specific strategies and new skills for your situation.

Therapy can also be a great place to practice those skills for use in your everyday life.

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