Self-regulation is defined as a child’s ability to control thinking, emotions and behavior in a changing environment. This requires a child to be able to adapt to unexpected change, maintain a calm and alert state, and moderate his or her emotional expression in multi-sensory environments, even if the change is unpleasant. This skill helps children stay on task and pay attention and promotes appropriate behavior in school and other social environments. A child who is not able to self-regulate, or becomes disregulated, may demonstrate excessive movement/excitement, aggressive behaviors towards themselves or others, or may withdraw/shutdown from the situation. This child may also have trouble sitting still and focusing attention.
Self-regulation can be difficult for many children, especially if children have developmental or processing challenges. Occupational therapists can assess what situations and areas of difficulty may lead to a child’s tendency to disregulate. They can design an intervention program to help a child improve in this area—often through using “co-regulation” strategies. Occupational therapists can provide task or environmental modifications that allow children ways to externally and internally self-regulate.