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What is Self-Regulation and Why is it Important?

According to Age of Montessori’s Professional Development Webinar entitled Freedom and Discipline, Self-regulation is “a vital competency that is at the core of all success in learning and life. It is the ability to:

  • identify and modulate emotions,
  • control impulses,
  • delay gratification,
  • make thoughtful and conscious choices,
  • and set goals and achieve them.”
Young Boy Imagination Muscles
“I think self-discipline is something, it’s like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it gets.” ~Daniel Goldstein

Buy why is self-regulation so important? Self-regulation is an essential aspect of overall emotional intelligence. People with self-regulating skills cope better with life’s stresses. They make better decisions because they listen to their own inner voice instead of external influences. Studies show that children who are taught to self-regulate have higher academic success, better physical health, lower divorce rates, and are less likely to suffer addictions as adults.

But it is essential to remember that self-regulation is not an arriving point in children’s development, but a journey. Children learn self-regulation gradually and through many sources and strategies. One key source is, of course, through imitation of the adult role models in their lives. Therefore, role modeling these strategies is absolutely vital both for your children and for yourself.

Are You Modeling Self-Control?

Little cute girl
“With self-discipline most anything is possible.” ~Theodore Roosevelt

We can start by taking a look at our own self-regulating strategies. There are three core types of self-regulation: emotional, cognitive, and social. Emotional self-control is based mainly on our ability to calm down in the face of anger and frustration. Cognitive self-regulation boils down to our problem-solving abilities. And then there is social self-control, meaning our capacity to refrain from just saying whatever pops into our mind, especially when those thoughts are of the not-so-kind variety.

Here are 5 simple, but effective ways for adults to improve their own self-regulation skills:

  1. Breathe deeply. When stressed, it is a natural human response to take short, shallow breaths. Stop for a moment and take three to ten slow, deep breaths.
  2. Drink water. Our nervous systems are far more sensitive when we are dehydrated. Stay hydrated to stay calm.
  3. Pause. Just take a moment to pause and center yourself. Place your hand over your heart; practice this throughout the day. It is a great model for children to see you doing this.
  4. Think. Bring to mind what you love about the child or a successful experience with the child. This releases positive neurotransmitters to balance out negative brain chemicals produced by frustration and stress. Yes, amazingly we can even self-regulate our own nervous systems.
  5. Visualize. See the positive outcome in your mind. Practice visualization; it is a very powerful and effective tool not to be underestimated.

    “We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort.” ~Jesse Owens
    “We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort.” ~Jesse Owens

Are You Teaching the Child to Self-Regulate?

In addition to modeling self-regulation, we can teach children self-control skills through the following tried-and-true techniques:

  1. Get down on the child’s level. Standing over the child can make them feel overwhelmed; kneeling down creates safety.
  2. Give Empathy. Feeling heard and understood is a core need that we all have. When we take the time to empathize, children feel understood, which in turn helps them recognize and regulate their emotions.
  3. Match the child’s emotional tone. Get to a place where you can understand the child’s emotion and match
    “In reading the lives of great men, I found that the first victory they won was over themselves... self-discipline with all of them came first.” ~Harry S Truman
    “In reading the lives of great men, I found that the first victory they won was over themselves… self-discipline with all of them came first.” ~Harry S Truman

    that emotion with your tone of voice. This creates emotional resonance, helping the child to feel heard and understood. Mirror for the child what you see.

  4. Give them time. Remain open and loving to the child’s perspective and experience. Slow down and honor the moment. Let go of the idea that the child’s emotions can be changed for our own convenience.
  5. Let them play. Children need unstructured time. Children should have at least 2.5 to 3 hours a day to make independent choices and to be in charge of their own experiences. Remember that children learn through playing!

Self-regulation is one of the most vital skills for children to master in order to be successful in learning and in life.

 For more information about teaching these important skills, sign up to watch Freedom and Discipline, a Professional Development Webinar presented by Age of Montessori. For more information about this and other Age of Montessori webinars, click here or anywhere on the image below…

f&D (450x243)


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  1. Thank you for the informative information. If I want to use the content how should I reference you.


    1. Hi Cebsile,

      The content is copyrighted, so please do credit Age of Montessori as the author and provide a link to the original blogpost.

      Thanks for your interest.

  2. This is so helpful, i work with children and parents in a school setting. This is invaluable easy to understand. Thank you.

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