Helping Toddlers Learn Self-regulation

helping toddlers learn self regulation

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Self–regulation aids children in generating appropriate responses to the surrounding stimuli. A well–defined environment and structured guidance can bring positive changes in toddlers’ self–regulatory skills.



Self–regulation is an ability which helps children to evaluate the happenings and situations around them, and act after incorporating the knowledge they already have. Self–regulatory skills lay the foundation for suitable child behaviour, social competence, academic success and their overall growth. Hence, sooner the toddlers learn to develop self-control, easier it is for them to exercise restraint over their emotions and give a right direction to their thinking.

When and How does Self–Regulation Develop?

It is believed that children begin to visibly reflect self-regulatory characteristics around the age of 18-24 months, which is also the time they are more socially aware and can communicate with people in their contact. As they mature, they learn to exercise choices, develop tolerance, experience frustrations, understand consequences and think before acting.




However, every toddler is different and they may take their own time to become autonomous learners. Some are inherently calm and controlled, while others have temperamental issues with varying intensity. Similarly, toddlers with special needs, those who lack required parental support or are exposed to inappropriate/stressful upbringing can face delay or show resistance in acquiring self–control ability.

Tips to Develop Self–Regulation

Parents and other supervising adults have to adopt those self–regulation development strategies, which can not only translate experience into information for toddlers, but also doesn’t interfere with their natural curiosity to explore the social environment. Here are some useful self–regulation tips:





  • Create a supportive, structured environment with predictable routine. This will help the toddlers to know what to expect and what is expected out of them.
  • Incorporate well-planned activities or games in the daily schedule, which can teach them to focus and practice restraint. For example, they can play ‘become a statue’ game, where they dance to slow and fast music numbers and become motionless like a statue as soon as the music stops.
  • Encourage them to do role plays or pretend plays, which can assist them to understand their own as well as others’ behaviour.
  • Parents can demonstrate the right behaviour and be a role model for their children.
  • Provide hints and cues through words, expressions or gestures to gain children’s attention and sustain their interest in a particular activity for a longer time.
  • Keep toddlers away from activities or situations that distract them.
  • Give a set of do’s and don’ts or use day to day situations, explaining their repercussions. For example, “Put your shoes in the rack” or “Don’t ride a bicycle without wearing a helmet, you may get hurt.”
  • Praise your toddlers whenever they exhibit an appropriate self–regulatory behaviour. This will boost their confidence and encourage them further for self–direction. Let children vent off their frustration or anger by taking them to a quiet corner and gently prompting them to open up with their feelings.
  • On some occasions, it is okay for parents to show toddlers that you are angry with their improper behaviour. However, it is advisable to take a deep breath and take a few moments before responding.

Is Self-Regulation Necessary?

Yes, self–regulation is as important as academic skills in children. It channelizes their feelings, thoughts and behaviour in the right direction. Children who are in good self–control perform very well in their academics, and have a better ability to exert control over situations or respond appropriately.

Remember, toddlers will master the self–regulation skill gradually only with time, experience, staying in conducive environment and through loving support of their social contacts.