What is self-regulation? That’s a bit of a complex question.
Let’s break it down together. You could describe it as the ability to manage your own energy, emotions, behaviours and attention, in a socially acceptable way. Self-regulation helps us to plan, think, problem-solve, interact with others, and control our own behaviour.
If you’re reading this article, you’ve likely already got a handle on all this. But the little ones around you are still learning these skills, and in the challenging circumstances of the coronavirus, they’re more important than ever.
Why is self-regulation even more important during this pandemic?
Physical and mental well-being are important at any time. But self-regulation is especially important during this pandemic, because we might experience emotions more intensely than we’re used to.
Children could be hearing news bulletins and overhearing worrying conversations without fully understanding them. They are perhaps confused by all the unknowns around them, or worried that they might get sick. They might be missing their old routines, visiting family and friends, or being with the practitioners and teachers at their child care settings.
Changes to our lifestyle
Quite rightly, we hear lots about the key workers in the food chain, carers, nurses and doctors who are stepping up to the front line in these tumultuous times.
But the early years sector has gotten less attention, despite taking to the front lines to help all the other key workers continue to do their jobs. Child care keeps other key workers’ children safe, while also sorting through a minefield of Government guidance, and sorting out how to help children and parents learn from home.
We’re asking so much of our early years workers right now, and they’re stepping up to the challenge with incredible resolve. This means it’s more important than ever that we look out for our sector’s mental health, and that we support the wellbeing of the children in our care.
Surviving or thriving?
We have been thrust into this new stay at home lifestyle. There’s no socialising with friends and family, we’re trying to mark special occasions in inventive new ways, and we’re working from home or perhaps dealing with being furloughed.
Amidst all this change we all need to feel safe and secure. That’s where self-regulation comes in. During change and feelings of uncertainty we often find ourselves in survival mode — even if we’re not aware of it. It is okay to feel “fine”, “not fine” and “fine” again all in the same 5 or 10 minutes! Some will feel totally in control whilst others are totally confused, left wondering what might happen next and even what day it is. For adults, but certainly for children, self-regulation can help us get a handle on these fluctuating feelings.
Giving children our support
Despite all these mixed and fluid emotions, children still need their adults to provide them with a sense of security and calm. They will need their adults to help them adjust and understand what is happening. You may be experiencing your children having more outbursts, or meltdowns as they express their uncertainty, frustration or confusion. They may have regressed to a previous stage or behaviour, as this reflects a time where they felt more secure. These behaviours are typical examples of all how children communicate.
We can help by connecting with children at these times, acknowledging their feelings and trying to understand what they’re communicating through their behaviour.
It helps to acknowledge the child’s feelings. For example, with a phrase like, “you look to be really cross that….”. It is also important to speak in an age-appropriate way about how and why their life and routines have changed, and to address anything that is worrying them. There are many books and free resources with ideas of how to do so.
When the time is right, we’ll transition back to some kind of ‘normal’. It’s important to understand how your brain works and reacts to uncertain times and change, how you are feeling in these unprecedented times and to seek support if necessary. These are uncertain times for everyone, but children need their adults to provide them with a sense of security and calm to help them through.
Sue is a freelance Early Childhood Consultant. You can read more about self-regulation in her new book, “Self-Regulation Skills in Young Children”. In her book, Sue provides a wider awareness of self-regulation in babies and young children. It emphasises the importance of giving children positive attachments and empathy and provides fun ideas of how to promote coping strategies for them. The book makes child and brain development an accessible read for parents, carers, teachers and all early years practitioners.