Maria Montessori says that in the period of birth to age 2, “one passes from being nothing into being something”, which is a unique way to view those formative years.
During a child’s journey to becoming “something” as Montessori describes it, they will learn some key characteristics that will stay with them through adulthood.
One of these characteristics is self-regulation.
According to the Child Mind Institute, self-regulation is “the ability to manage your emotions and behavior in accordance with the demands of the situation.
It includes being able to resist highly emotional reactions to upsetting stimuli, to calm yourself down when you get upset, to adjust to a change in expectations and to handle frustration without an outburst.”
Learning self-regulation is a huge task for a young child! In fact, self-regulation can even be a challenge for grown-ups.
It’s important to note that very young children don’t have the capacity to self-regulate. They are still controlled by developmental needs rather than rationality.
But as children mature, they will begin to develop impulse control and self-regulation.
There are ways adults can help children self-regulate their emotions, and here are just a few suggestions:
Adults can demonstrate active self-regulation through words and actions. “I’m getting a bit frustrated that I’m unable to get this jar open. I’m going to set it down and take a few deep breaths.”
You can show self-regulation by taking yourself out of a stressful environment and finding a quiet place to be alone for a few moments. “I’m sorry, I need to be alone now to calm myself.”
Help a child understand the emotions they are feeling by making nonjudgmental observations. “I see that you’re upset that it’s time to stop playing.” Make sure to get down to your child’s height to speak at eye level and use calm, soothing tones.
Give your child some options when they are upset, like “you can sit in a chair until you’re feeling better or you can walk with me around the block.” For some children however, it’s better to speak AFTER the big emotion has subsided.
Observing exactly how much assistance a child needs is key. If a young child is very frustrated at not being able to zip her coat, provide just enough assistance without letting her become overly dependent on adult intervention.
For example, try simply holding the zipper taut so it’s easier to zip, or get it started but let your child zip the rest of the way.
Self-regulation skills help a child interact with their peers and loved ones. Practicing these skills, much like practicing counting or reading, will give a child the strong emotional foundation they need to be independent and joyful learners.
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