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Tips on how to provide external regulation

There are no perfect parents or caregivers.

Doing the best we can is what matters. We know that developing attachment relationships takes time, and we can only aim to do our best, every single day.

Remember, it is never too late to build a trusting relationship with children.

Attachment and self-regulation will lead to the growth of healthy emotional development in children.

  • Attachment is the ability to develop and keep healthy emotional relationships.

  • Self-regulation is the ability to manage one’s own emotions and attention, provide ways that can positively affect interactions and well-being.

Healthy early interactions with parents and caregivers establish the capacity for attachment bonds. When young children are not capable of meeting their own needs they rely on the external regulation provided by attentive, caring adults.

It is during these attentive caring interactions that the special bond grows between the child and adult. The adult’s responsiveness helps the child’s brain develop the capacity for making and keeping healthy emotional relationships, as well as coping with daily challenges in age-appropriate ways.

So how do adults provide external regulation?

Here are some tips:

Model appropriate ways to express emotions.

Teach and model calming strategies when children are experiencing strong emotions:

– Deep breathing

– Sensory processing techniques such as tensing and relaxing hands and feet, bear hugs, pushing, pulling and carrying heavy items

– Tactile activities such as massage, vibration (e.g. vibrating toy), and a gentle breeze from a small fan

– Sensory activities such as playing with play dough, water or sand, listening to quiet music, finger painting, and crumpling up paper

Create a special calming area where children can go.

Teach and model feeling words.

Acknowledge feelings.

- Saying " I see that you're sad" or "You are mad because you don't want to clean up"

- Use Feelings wheel and point to what you think the child is feeling.

- You can make yourself an example " I am happy today because the sun is shining" or " I am sad today because my car is broken"

Establish age appropriate limits that are few, fair, and firm.

- Play time is done. It is time to clean up.

- Hands are not for hitting.

- These blocks are for building. (in reference to throwing blocks)

We can even give them appropriate choices like:

- You can clean up the blue truck or the baby doll.

- You can squeeze this toy or play with hammer.

- You can throw a ball or build a tower.

Provide concrete visual supports to help children understand what is happening and what to expect next.

Feel free to share these ideas around and let us know what your favorite strategy is!
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