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Developing Self-Regulation Behaviors

Updated: May 17

Imagine, you are sitting in a work meeting and get an email announcing you have won an all-expense paid vacation to a tropical island resort. Inside you are bursting with excitement, but outside you feel the need to maintain a professional demeanor. You calm yourself as to remain as composed as possible. Once the meeting ends and you are no longer confined to work ideals and standards you rush outside, beyond the controlled four walls and stark double doors and explode in happiness. You’ve maintained appropriate behaviors for appropriate spaces, time and matters. THIS is self-regulation: the ability to manage various behavioral codes, expressions and decorum; regulating your reactions so that they align with the demands of a given situation.

What is Self-Regulation?

People of all ages must demonstrate self-regulation throughout the happenings of daily life. Our ability to direct our behavior(s) toward achieving a goal is essential... even when we encounter unpredictable events and feelings. For children, self-regulation is

exemplified in actions such as: their ability to raise their hand to speak in class instead of blurting out an answer, to remain frozen while playing a game of freeze-tag with peers, and managing to avoid intense argument when disagreements with friends arise. As you can imagine, self-regulation is a critical skill that supports development in all areas!

A young boy wearing a "this is me" tshirt  jumps for joy

Children begin to develop self-regulation early in infancy, but notable gains in self-regulatory abilities are seen between three and seven years of age. It is a skill that requires practice and continues to be refined throughout the lifespan. However, no matter how innate & inborn this skill may present, we cannot simply expect a child to demonstrate self-regulation without aid; we must teach them. As caregivers, it is our job to foster a child’s self-regulation abilities.

Ways to Help Cultivate Self-Regulation:

  • Foster warm and supportive relationships

  • Talk about feelings and label emotions

  • Describe actions and responses to situations in a non-judgmental way 

  • Provide compassion and validate feelings

  • Avoid the urge to “fix” or “help” too much — Instead, provide a supportive framework that coaches the child in managing their emotions and actions more independently

  • Model self-regulation — Talk about how you are feeling, and verbally share how you are managing your actions/behavior

  • Stay prepared by developing a “toolbox” of skills that your child can tap into 

  • Practice self-regulation and the use of tools while in a structured, low-pressure environment so that these behavioral tools become more automatically accessed in natural scenarios

A mother and son sit together. The boy is shielding his eyes in play while the mom looks lovingly at him

This is where the THRIVE app comes in: 

A key feature of THRIVE is the self-regulation toolbox. This app feature is specifically designed to aid in the day-to-day development of self-regulation behaviors. When the watch wearer encounters a situation wherein demonstration of self-regulation is required, they can access visual representation of the various “tools” that they can implement to help them regulate their reactions in real-time.

Learn more about the Self-Regulation feature of THRIVE by clicking below!

The toolbox will have several pre-loaded “tools” that a child may use. Also, the caregiver can add additional “tools” personalized to the child. Initially, the child will benefit from direct instruction, as well as scaffolding, to implement use of the toolbox. With patience and practice (and over time), the child may be able to access and implement the tools more independently. Those integral in both the clinical and practical development of the THRIVE app recognize the importance of self-regulation (to say the least). Thus, Thriving on the Spectrum has worked hard toward leveraging technology together with the high value of visual supports to assist the wearer in developing their self-regulatory abilities.

Learn more about the THRIVE App by clicking below!

Mary Hart MacLeod, MS, OTR/L, BCP

Pediatric Occupational Therapist


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