Episode 5: Self-Regulation

"Everything you need to raise a happy, confident, resilient toddler 
undamaged by living through a pandemic!"

Show notes:

In this episode we will be looking self-regulation and I’m in conversation with Award Winning International Early Childhood Consultant and Author of ‘Self-Regulation Skills in Young Children’ Sue Asquith over on my Parentverse podcast – this is a podcast when I dig a little deeper and where I chat to global experts from around the world on all sorts of subjects related to raising happy, confident, resilient kids.

Self-regulation is the ability to understand and manage your own behaviour and reactions. Self-regulation helps toddlers learn, behave well, get along with others and become independent.

Self-regulation begins to develop rapidly in the toddler and preschooler years. It continues to develop into adulthood.

In this episode:

  • Break down big activities, that are difficult for your child to handle, into smaller more do-able steps.
  • ​What is Self-regulation.
  • ​Why self-regulation is important.
  • ​How and when self-regulation develops.
  • ​How tantrums happen when toddlers are overwhelmed by 'big' strong emotions.
  • ​Some practical ways you can help your child learn and pratise self-regulation.
Self-regulation is the ability to manage your emotions and behaviour in accordance with the demands of the situation.
Key points:
  • ​Self-regulation is the ability to understand and manage your own behaviour and reactions.
  • ​Self-regulation helps children learn, behave well, get along with others and become independent.
  • ​Self-regulation begins to develop rapidly in the toddler and preschooler years. It continues to develop into adulthood.
  • ​Ways to develop your child’s self-regulation include talking, planning, problem-solving and role-modelling.
It’s normal for 2-year-olds to have tantrums. But if your child is 5 or older and still having meltdowns a lot, they may need help learning to control their emotions or actions. This is called “self-regulation.” Some kids are born having a harder time with self-regulation than others. Children don’t develop the necessary skills if you as parents jump in right away to solve their problems or help them calm down all the time. Children with ADHD or anxiety may also have this problem.

Self-regulation is a skill that children need to be taught and practice. The trick is not to avoid difficult situations. Instead, try coaching your toddler through tough situations. Breaking an activity into smaller, more doable parts can help. For instance, if your child has a difficult time brushing their teeth, start with just putting toothpaste on the brush. Praise them a lot when they do it and add steps slowly.

When your toddler acts up, encourage them to slow down and reflect. With your help, toddlers can learn to ask themselves: What went wrong? Why? How can I fix that for next time?

Self-Regulation includes being able to:

  • Regulate reactions to strong emotions like frustration, excitement, anger, and embarrassment
  • ​Calm down after something exciting or upsetting
  • ​Focus on a task
  • ​Refocus attention on a new task
  • ​Control impulses
  • ​Behave in ways that help you get along with other people

Why self-regulation is important

As your child grows, self-regulation helps them:
  • Learn at school – because self-regulation gives your child the ability to sit and listen in the classroom
  • ​Behave in socially acceptable ways – because self-regulation gives your child the ability to control impulses
  • ​Make friends – because self-regulation gives your child the ability to take turns in games and conversation, share toys, and express emotions in appropriate ways
  • ​Become more independent – because self-regulation gives your child the ability to make appropriate decisions about behaviour and learn how to behave in new situations with less guidance from you.

How and when self-regulation develops

Children develop self-regulation through warm and responsive relationships. They also develop it by watching the adults around them.

Self-regulation starts when children are babies. It develops most in the toddler and preschool years, but it also keeps developing right into adulthood.

For example, babies might suck their fingers for comfort or look away from their caregivers if they need a break from attention or are getting tired.

Toddlers can wait short times for food and toys, but they still probably still snatch toys from other children if it’s something they really want. And tantrums happen when toddlers are overwhelmed by their ‘big’ strong emotions.

Preschoolers are starting to know how to play with other children and understand what’s expected of them but they need lots of practice.

School-age children are getting better at controlling their own wants and needs, imagining other people’s perspectives and seeing both sides of a situation. This means, for example, that they might be able to disagree with other children without having an argument.

Preteens and teenagers are better at planning, sticking with difficult tasks, behaving in socially appropriate ways, and considering how their behaviour affects other people. For example, a teenage child might think about your perspective when they’re negotiating with you about your house rules!

Children who typically feel things strongly and intensely find it harder to self-regulate. It isn’t as hard for children who are more easygoing. Even older children and teenagers sometimes struggle with self-regulation.

Helping toddlers and children learn and practise self-regulation

Here are some practical ways you can help your child learn and practise self-regulation:
  • Work on your child’s skills for understanding and managing emotions.
  • ​Use calming down strategies for toddlers like using a ‘Calm Corner’ not a Naughty Step – just a quiet space to calm down for a moment or two – use it as a positive not a negative experience.
  • ​Plan for challenging situations where it might be hard for your toddler to behave well. For example, ‘The shop we’re going to has lots of things that can break. It’s OK to look, but don’t touch the things as they might break’. Give your child a gentle reminder as you enter the shop. For example, ‘Remember – just looking, OK?’
  • ​Praise your toddler when they show self-regulation and manage a tricky situation. For example, ‘You were really great at waiting for your turn today in the park’, or ‘I liked the way that you shared with Joe when he asked’.
  • ​Try to model self-regulation for your child. For example, ‘I’d really like to keep reading, but if I don’t stop now I won’t get you to nursery on time.’
  • ​It’s important to match your expectations of behaviour to your child’s age and stage of development. This can help your child avoid the frustration that comes with not having the skills or understanding to do what they’re asked.
Practicing mindfulness can help with self-regulation. Mindfulness teaches kids how to focus on the present instead of the past or the future.

Studies show that the benefits of mindfulness for kids include:

  • Increased focus, attention, self-control, classroom participation, compassion.
  • Improved academic performance, ability to resolve conflict, overall well-being.
  • ​Decreased levels of stress, depression, anxiety, disruptive behaviour.

Watch Parenting Hacks on Youtube

Watch and subscribe to my YouTube Channel as I talk to Helen Skelton and Izzy Judd about mindfulness on my Disney Parenting Hacks video and podcast.
There’s loads more tips, strategies, techniques, and ideas to help you handle the Terrible Twos to turn them into the Terrific Twos on my Toddler Roadmap Training.

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I’m doing a series of Toddler Live Pods on Mondays at 7pm GMT or 2 pm EST
I’ve done, The Big Gremlin of Mom Guilt, Handling Biting, Handling Tantrums and coming up are:
  • ​14th February: Preparing Your Child for A New Baby
  • ​21st February: Siblings Without Rivalry!
  • ​28th February:  Setting Boundaries For Your Toddler And Strategies For Discipline.
  • ​7th March: Songs For Each Stage In Your Child’s Life
Kevin and I chat… - I was chatting to my kids over the weekend as we all went out to dinner together & we got talking about songs we used to sing along to in the car when they were little.
It got me thinking of the soundtrack playlist that would sum up the Toddler Years. It is just fun look at the different stages of parenthood that could be the anthem for each stage of your child’s life.
The Toddler Stage
This stage is lots of fun, you need to have a lot of energy to be a parent to a toddler don’t you?

They have loads amounts of energy!

One song that immediately comes to mind is ‘Why’ by Annie Lennox!

Toddlers are constantly asking you questions. They are curious and want answers for everything that pops into their head.

Another song that from this stage is when they start learning how to walk, so naturally ‘Walk this Way’ by D.C.M & Aerosmith is part of the playlist for this age range 😂

How about ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams?

Some Mums on Instagram said ‘I Predict a Riot’ by the Kaiser Chiefs and ‘My Stride’ by Matthew Wilder

What would be on your playlist to sum up & describe your Toddler Years
How about ‘No Sleep Till Brooklyn’ by The Beastie Boys! 😂
I’ll feature them in the next episode of my TODDLER Roadmap podcast 🎙


• Dear Sue, how do I stop my two kids from fighting? My son is 5 and my daughter is 3. Inaya Malik from Lahore, Pakistan  


A certain amount of pushing, grabbing, and even punching is normal when young children get together as toddlers are not mature enough to handle sharing yet. However, if they get into repeated and escalating tussles. For them, aggression becomes their main approach to coping with almost any situation.
They're not bullies; in fact, they sometimes pick fights with children who are much larger and older than they are. It's more a matter of their needing to learn and practice social skills.
But let’s look at Sibling Rivalry

Sibling rivalry has always had a bad press – think of Cain slaughtering Abel and Joseph being thrown down the well and sold by his brothers because they were jealous of his beautiful multi coloured coat!

Sibling rivalry can apply to any child living in the same family, from step brothers and sisters to blood related brothers and sisters – and it refers to the jealousy, competition, teasing and fighting that goes on between them – and all the experts seem to agree that it stems from your child’s deep desire and need for your exclusive love – and their need for your attention and their sense of identity, self-worth and specialness within your family.

Siblings fight for a number of reasons:

  • They fight because they want your parental attention, and you naturally only have so much time, attention and patience to give.
  • They fight because they are jealous: “He got more of Dad’s attention tonight. I didn’t. They must love him more than they love me.”
  • They fight over ordinary teasing which is a way of testing the effects of behaviour and words on another person: “He called me…” “But she called me…first.”
  • They fight because they are growing up in a competitive society that teaches them that to win is to be better: “I saw it first.” “I beat you to the water.”
  • They are vying for your attention and if they don’t feel valued or feel they are getting equal amounts of your love and approval they will fight for it and as they don’t always know positive ways to get you to notice or respond to them – and any attention is better than none.
Building the “WE” mentality of a team
The “we” rather than “me” mentality is so important in a family. It builds trust, support, loyalty, love and a true foundation for security and self-esteem.

I think it’s helpful to have the attitude of being “high on harmony and low on rivalry” and I believe if you have this as your goal – things begin to fall into place.

So just for this week start to notice the ways you talk to your children and how you spend time with them individually. Also notice how to encourage and nurture the “we” spirit of a family team within your family.

What can you do to encourage them to do 2 things together? To build back harmony and fun and team spirit?

Read my Article!

The ‘Easy Peasy – Lemon Squeezy Button’ is a great way to reward the behaviour you want to see more of. It’s a really fun way to encourage your toddler to do the right thing. You to record 40 seconds of yourself saying ‘That was Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy’ via the built-in microphone and speaker – to motivate & encourage your child to brush their teeth, do their homework or tidy away their toys or NOT interrupt you.

No more ‘Naughty Step’ just lots of positive, tactile, active psychology that encourages your child using multi-sensory engaged learning.

Kids LOVE pressing it.
  • How can I help my toddler learn better ways to manage their strong emotions this week?
  • ​When my toddler needs help to calm down, I notice the emotion, name it for them, and pause.
  • ​What can I do to help my toddler problem-solve what triggered them, after they’ve calmed down, to help them next time?

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Sue in conversation with Sue Asquith
Early Childhood Consultant and published author

Coming up Next Week 

How to Handle Anger Positively

In the next episode I’ll talk about my ‘The Monkeys Are Jumping Strategy’ and how to handle anger positively, so I hope you’ll have fun with this one and learn loads! 

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