When I write a blog, I try to make it light and easy to read, even funny (ish) if I can – never forget, when you’re laughing you’re learning after all! I will be honest though, I have struggled with this one – call it writers block, or just a subject which I have not found easy to write about. Many times I have said to Michelle – “Right, I’m going to do the blog on self-regulation this afternoon”, only to write one on sharing, or toileting, or sleep or….anything really. (Sure there is a really interesting blog on avoidance to be written here too!!) It is a big subject and I have got bogged down in it many times, but as parents and practitioners, it is crucial that we understand it’s importance and how it shapes a child’s emotional development and allows them to gain vital life skills, leading to resilience and emotional maturity.

What is it and why is it important? 

Self-regulation is the ability to understand and manage your emotions and behaviour. For children this does not come easily nor is it learnt quickly. Children need support to manage and understand their own feelings. This enables them to learn appropriate responses to their own behaviours and manage their reactions and it builds resilience. It helps children to learn, behave well and build positive relationships with others. It is constantly evolving and is an ever changing process that starts in the early years and continues throughout our lives. Resilience equips us to deal with those many knocks of life and believe me, there will be many regardless of how much we want to shield and protect our children from them. Resilience is a huge subject which deserves a blog all by itself and as luck would have it, in true Blue Peter style – here is one I have prepared earlier!

So – self-regulation! In the first 3 years of a child’s life, the brain goes through enormous growth, constantly producing neural connections (over a million every second). These connections are totally dependent on experience and interaction and form a child’s future social and emotional development. It is therefore easy to see why this can’t be taken lightly!

Babies and young children learn to self regulate through co-regulation – having a safe, loving adult sharing their calm with a child spiralling out of control. If you give someone a hug, hold their hand or sit with them when they are feeling overwhelmed, this is co-regulation. It can help children to manage big, scary emotions and develop the ability to soothe themselves as they get older.

This is highlighted throughout the revised Early Years Foundation Stage, incorporating self-regulation and outlining how important the early years are for supporting children’s development – focusing on building self-confidence and self-awareness, managing feelings and behaviour and making relationships. By understanding the uniqueness (I think that is a word) of each child and being able to provide effective support and learning opportunities, parents and practitioners can help children interact effectively, develop positive attitudes of themselves and others, develop social skills, a positive attitude to learning and emotional wellbeing to know themselves and what they can do.

So how do we do this?

Well, the easy answer – have Michelle and I from Purple Parenting in to deliver your training on this and we will tell you (sorry, that’s shameless I know). Apart from that, here are some tips:

  • Play is an important part of learning to manage emotions and free play is crucial. It helps to develop emotional health, builds self-esteem and confidence and allows children to explore and release their emotions.
  • Explore feelings with children through books, stories, role play, songs, music and movement. This helps children learn what characters may be thinking and feeling and allows children to express themselves freely.
  • Foster empathy – children need to ‘tune in’ to others and link feelings and thinking. Talk about your own thoughts, beliefs and feelings. This helps children understand that we all think and feel differently. Encouraging, noticing and checking what others may be thinking or feeling reinforces this – “What do you think Sam might like to play with? Shall we ask him?”
  • Be aware when children are starting to find things stressful or difficult and support as early as possible. If a child is frequently losing control, consider using regular sensory breaks to give them the opportunity to rest, reset and come back to feeling ‘just right’. Activities can include time with you, physical activities, fidget toys, sand or water play, music, stretching or breathing.
  • Acknowledge and reflect feelings – ‘you seem worried/sad/angry’ or ‘it’s hard when you can’t have what you want’. This does not need to be complicated but does need to be age appropriate. Allow the child time to absorb and take in your response.
  • Step back from fixing and problem solving – children need the opportunity to develop their own ways of coping so start with asking ‘what do you think would help?’ or ‘what could we do about that?’ if they old enough and calm enough to think about things.
  • Big emotions are a scary thing to manage alone so stay with them. Having you there helps them to feel held and understood. Being physically held helps some children to regulate their emotions whereas other children find this unbearable and need your presence but to be given space to come back to feeling ok. Be led by them.
  • Remember that supporting a child with their emotions takes a lot of patience. We know it is easy to say, but try and remain calm – co-regulation requires you to be able to share your calm. If you are feeling stressed and out of control your child is going to feel even more overwhelmed. Be kind to yourself and think about how you can look after yourself too.


We run a company called Purple Parenting, offering parent coaching, parent groups & workshops and bespoke staff training for Early Years to KS2 .  Are you struggling to understand your child’s behaviour and how to respond? We offer a free initial chat to see whether parent coaching would be for you. We also offer bespoke training for Early Years or schools settings, including understanding and supporting self regulation and resilience. Contact us through our website, Facebook/Instagram message or email on