Self-regulation is an essential life skill that begins to develop in early childhood and continues throughout life. It is a learning process acquired through experience and support from others and improves gradually with practice and encouragement. It is normal for young children to feel overwhelmed as they often do not have the words to communicate or manage how they are feeling. Children are not born with the ability to self-regulate and depend on caregivers to comfort them.

When caregivers help children to recognize and manage how they respond to different experiences, children start to learn the skills they will need to self-regulate. Children who learn to seek comfort and manage their feelings are better able to learn and handle the ups and downs of everyday life.

Self-regulation is a combination of skills that a person develops to manage their thoughts, feelings, and reactions to different experiences. Development of cognitive, emotional, and behavioral skills can help children to maintain or return to a feeling of being balanced in their body, mind, heart, and spirit. Helping children to develop skills that promote self regulation allows them to feel secure, cope with strong feelings, learn, and get along with others.

Full of Feelings Book Download

Full of Feelings is a children’s book that was written and illustrated in the Northwest Territories (NWT). It demonstrates how children experience a range of feelings and emotions, and ways that families can help them with their feelings.

Download your free copy and learn more about self-regulation:

Help the child in your life begin to develop self-regulation

Soothe your child when their feelings get too big

Young children need an adult to help them manage their BIG feelings. You can be a calming presence for your child. Get down to their level, use a soothing tone of voice, have a patient and kind facial expression, and take time to slow down. Pay attention to the things that help your small child calm down and help them. You are not spoiling your child by doing this. You are showing your child they can count on you.

Talk about feelings

Young children are learning about feelings. Help your child learn the words to describe their feelings. When you give emotions a name, it helps your child to do the same and teaches them that emotions are okay. You can say “I see you are angry because they knocked down your tower” or “I can see you are sad because your balloon flew away”.

Be a role model

You can be a role model for how to handle BIG feelings. If you spill a drink, you can say something like “I feel frustrated when I spill something. I’m going to count to ten and calm down before I clean up the mess.”

Help your child create a rest and restore space

Have your child pick a stuffed animal, blanket, or cushion that can be put on the floor in a special place. Talk about having a safe place to use when your child needs to rest and restore. Encourage your child to use the space but don’t force them.

Show empathy with your child’s feelings

Show that you understand how they are feeling. When you see your child feeling an emotion you can say something like “You look upset. It’s okay to feel that way. I can give you a hug.”

Share stories about feelings

Read your young child books with many pictures and few words that show emotions. As you read, point to the children’s faces and name the emotions. For example, “That baby is crying. He looks sad” or “She looks really excited with her new toy”. It’s important to take these opportunities to talk about feelings when the child is calm and focused.

Use songs to teach about feelings

Music is a good way to share and express emotions. Sing familiar and comforting songs like a lullaby you learned from your grandmother, drum songs, and love songs. Teach your child songs like “When you’re happy and you know it…” Make up new verses like “When you’re sad and you know it, get a hug.”

Plan how to handle big feelings with big behaviours

These tips are ways to help reduce tantrums and meltdowns with your child. Tantrums are normal for young children and can be expected. They are your child’s way of saying “I am overwhelmed.” It can be difficult to communicate with your child during a tantrum or meltdown, so the best way that you can help is by remaining calm, keeping them safe, and being there to help soothe your child once the heat of the moment has passed.