Know more about self-regulation in children with special needs

Know more about self-regulation in children with special needs

27 February 2019 Admin General Media

In their everyday life, kids rely on self-regulation skills to get through their emotions. Self-regulation means the ability to manage one’s emotions and behavior according to the situation. This means a person can:

  • Resist highly emotional reactions to upsetting stimuli
  • Calm themselves down when they get upset
  • Adjust to a change in expectations
  • Handle frustration without an outburst

This skill set helps children, especially those with special needs, direct their own behavior towards a goal, despite the unpredictability of the world and their own feelings. However, kids with executive functioning challenges, like kids with ADHD, and those with sensory processing issues often struggle with it.


How Self-Regulation Works

Sometimes self-regulation can be confused with self-control. Although the two are related, they’re not the same. When it comes to self-regulation, a child needs to manage his or her emotions in appropriate ways to reach a certain point of comfort. In order to do that, he or she needs to keep track of changes in their situation or environment, and assess how they’re feeling or reacting, compared to their set point. They will also need to make adjustments to get back to that point. All this has to do with how a child processes information and emotion, and what he or she is able to do with them.


Why some kids struggle with self-regulation

A child’s innate capacities for self-regulation are temperament and personality-based. However, environment also plays a role. When parents give in to tantrums or work overtime to soothe their children when they’re upset, kids may have a hard time developing self-regulation skills. If this pattern is repeated, the child does not learn self-discipline out of habit. Children with ADHD or other special needs may find it particularly challenging to manage their emotions, and need more help to develop emotional regulation skills.


How to help Special needs kids develop Self-regulation

If your child has trouble with self-regulation, there are plenty of ways to help. The first step is to help them recognize when the information coming in is a problem. That could be information coming in through the senses or through internal thoughts.

Let us consider an example. Before you take your child to the toy store, they may count the money and realize they have enough to buy that toy that everyone is talking about. Once you’re at the store, you find your child is already super-excited. The display is overwhelming and so are the crowds to get to it. In this case, your child may experience a sensory meltdown and you may have to leave the store without the toy:

Here’s how you can go about it in the toy scenario:

  1. Self-awareness: In case of a child with sensory issues, it means knowing that the crowded toy display may create emotional stress. For a child with ADHD, it means knowing it’s possible that they may have to make adjustments to their plan. Talking those things through ahead of time can help. It will also be useful to teach your child to let you know when the input is too much.
  2. Impulse control: For the ADHD child, they may know that there are other solutions but it’s hard to restrain the impulse to get loudly upset. You can help your child feel more in control of their emotions and reactions by helping them develop coping skills.
  3. Goal-setting: Sometimes, it gets hard to keep in mind the main goal. Work on setting and meeting small goals in order to start being able to keep bigger goals in mind.

Self-regulation skills develop gradually and therefore, it is important to know what milestones are appropriate for your child. You can also help by talking to them about their set point and teaching ways to cope with frustration.