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7 Engaging Activities for Parents to Foster Children's Self-Regulation Skills with Cognitivities

Updated: Jun 30

Written By Dr. Lynne Kenney, PsyD for Fit & Fun Playscapes via ...



Self-regulation is a core executive function skill associated with academic achievement, learning, behavior, and successful social relationships in children. Self-regulation is generally defined as the ability to manage one’s thoughts, behaviors, and feelings to achieve goal-directed behaviors.


Self-regulation is so important that, for many children, it is a better predictor of early academic success than is IQ. Supporting children’s self-regulation skills can be done through conversation, movement, play, and song. For example, just singing a little song with children about how their brains and bodies need to “Think things out before they act”, raises children’s metacognitive awareness of the importance of refraining from impulsive behavior.


Here are seven activities parents can do with their young children to support and promote self-regulation.

Breathing Techniques: Teach children age-appropriate breathing techniques, like "balloon breathing" or "flower breathing," to help them calm down when experiencing strong emotions. Practicing these techniques regularly can empower children to regulate their emotional responses independently. You might even begin each day with three slow breaths. “Let’s start our day off feeling calm and focused. Jeremiah, can you please lead us in three slow balloon breaths this morning?”
Create a Calm Down Corner: Designate a quiet corner or area where children can go to regulate their emotions when feeling overwhelmed or upset. Stock it with comforting items like stuffed animals, books, or sensory toys to help them self-soothe and regain control. Just knowing that the child has a quiet place to go when they are noticing an increase in frustration, agitation, anger, or anxiety is empowering.
Emotion Recognition Games: Play games that encourage children to identify and label emotions, such as "Emotion Charades", emotion sorting cards, or creating feelings-themed art projects. By recognizing and articulating their emotions, children learn to express themselves effectively and better manage their feelings.
Executive Function Games: Play games that teach executive function skills, such as memory games, Simon Says, or puzzles. These activities provide opportunities for children to practice planning, focused attention, and slowing down, key components of self-regulation.
Mindfulness Exercises: Introduce simple mindfulness exercises tailored to children's understanding, such as paying attention to sensory experiences like listening to sounds or feeling different textures. These activities help children become more aware of their thoughts and feelings, laying the groundwork for self-awareness and regulation.
Modeling Self-Regulation: Perhaps the most powerful way to teach self-regulation is by modeling it yourself. Demonstrate healthy coping strategies, like talking about how you notice you are feeling anxious, tired, or upset so you are going to do a series of three yoga moves to calm yourself down. Ask your children to join you.
Sing or Hum Together: Singing familiar songs slowly provides the opportunity to take deep breaths, feel the inner vibration of your voice in your body, and even learn social lessons.  Here are the words to our Cognitivities™ song “Riding on the Train.” This song is sung to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.


Sing Along! with the Music to the SONG


Riding on the Train (Music - Twinkle Twinkle Little Star)





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