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how to help your child develop self-regulation skills

Helping Your Child Develop Self-Regulation Skills

Setbacks are a natural part of life. The perfect plan is usually too good to be true and is often never executed as intended; there’s almost always a pesky roadblock that keeps things from running smoothly. Whether that be a pop quiz that messes with a student’s chances of getting an A in a class, an injury that keeps an athlete from playing in the final game of a season, or a literal roadblock in the form of traffic that makes someone late for class, there’s always going to be challenges that we’re going to have to face. Unfortunately, this can be a hard reality for a lot of young people and sometimes their reactions to adversity make an unfavorable situation worse. This is when self-regulation skills, also known as self-management skills, become an invaluable resource for young people in school and later on in life.

Emotional Quotient and Why It Matters

Self-regulation skills are one of the five main characteristics that make up an individual’s emotional quotient (EQ), or in other words: emotional intelligence. Self-regulation, self-awareness, motivation, empathy, and social skills work hand in hand to make us part of a well-adjusted member of society. 

 

Self-regulation is the ability to modulate an emotional response to a desired or undesirable situation or turn of events. Examples are remaining calm when things don’t go as planned or refraining from emotionally withdrawing when encountering a setback. Even getting upset but returning to a calm state would qualify as being able to ‘self-regulate’. Having deficiencies in self-management skills makes for an unbalanced EQ, often leading to undesirable outcomes in the form of low self-esteem and low self-confidence for kids and adults in the long run.

Signs of Underdeveloped Self-Management Skills

Parents or teachers may observe a student who is emotionally sensitive in response to situations not going their way, has a large emotional reaction to disappointment or frustration, and/or becomes stuck (rigid) in an angry state and is unable to calm down without external support. These students often fixate on the negative emotions and miss out on opportunities to healthily overcome adversity and grow from the experience. Facing undesirable situations is an inevitable law of life. Using one’s self-regulation skills to emotionally modulate responses is important to get along in social settings, adjust expectations to complete tasks and ultimately learn from mistakes.

Self-Regulation Skills for Children

The ability to self-regulate begins from the moment we’re born into the world. A baby is capable of practicing self-management skills when it self-soothes by sucking on a pacifier or focusing in on the colorful mobiles hanging from atop the crib. Later on, young toddlers and elementary school-aged children learn to reflect on their feelings before they act on their impulses by practicing breathing techniques or counting strategies to cool down if they feel upset in moments of distress. As they age and school becomes more complex these strategies need an upgrade. Higher-level concepts like time management and careful, purposeful planning become crucial to meet the needs of middle school, high school, and college workloads. 

Self-Regulation Skills for Students

Being able to plan around or adjust to potential setbacks is one of the most important skills that a student can have in school. In fact, setbacks are often disguised as learning opportunities.  For instance, you aren’t always able to pick the partner of your choice for a project, and sometimes you’ll feel like there just isn’t enough time to study and also keep up with band or soccer practice. Life gets hectic and the need for discipline and grit is essential when confronting all that life has to throw at us. At Effective Students, we help your student grow by reframing situations and providing guidance using the tenets of good executive functioning coaching. 

Self-Management Skills Examples

Self-regulation and self-management skills fall under the umbrella of executive functioning, encapsulating the necessary mental processes that allow us to focus our attention, plan, and organize tasks effectively, and adjust to the unexpected. 

 

The following executive functioning skills, when taught successfully by the right coach or teacher and parents will yield incredible results for children that struggle with self-management skills:

  • Planning & Prioritizing
    • With the right scheduling and planning, a student will feel comfortable knowing exactly what is expected during the school day. By having a good plan for the week, you can account for any bumps in the road by prioritizing activities according to their rank of importance. 
  • Organization
    • Having the right materials organized in the way that best suits a student’s learning needs is crucial. There is much relief when you know exactly what works and where it is located. 
  • Time management
    • This goes hand and hand with planning and prioritizing. The busier the schedule, the more time management is necessary to make things happen. A student can feel overwhelmed without a proper sense of time management in their lives. 
  • Emotional Regulation
    • Breathing techniques and other forms of self-awareness including physical activity are excellent channels that go a long way toward helping kids when they encounter stressful or unexpected situations. By incorporating these into their lives, students will grow the appropriate social-emotional responses to many of life’s challenges. 

Find ways to incorporate self-regulation skills activities into the lives of your students and children by visiting and researching our course curriculum and speaking to one of our trained executive functioning coaches! Having well-balanced self-regulation skills is an important part of school and life.  At Effective Students, we can help your student develop the skills to be strong, self-directed learners.

what is flexible thinking

What is Flexible Thinking?

Flexible thinking is the ability to think about something in a new or different way.  Inflexible thinking or rigidity is being stuck or being only able to do something only one way.  Students who struggle with executive functioning often also struggle with fundamental skill.  They may be stuck in a routine or mindset that isn’t working for them.  They may be aware that what they are doing isn’t working but not be able to make a change or be willing to even entertain a change. 

Becoming a Flexible Thinker

A few years ago, I worked with a fifth grader whose parent and teacher shared that the student struggled with organizational skills and executive functioning.  Upon meeting the student for the first time, I asked to see his binders (there were 7) and asked if he was open to a change in how he was managing them.  He refused to even show me his backpack and held his binders to his chest as if I was going to steal them.  In this scenario, I had to be the flexible thinker (modeling) and move to another lesson until he trusted me enough to come back to demonstrating the Organization skill.  Ultimately, the student earned the most improved 5th grader award and rightfully so! He did a lot of growing that year.  

To the observer, the lack of flexible thinking may sound like, “I don’t need help” or “My way works” or “I’ve already tried that”.  The behaviors have been observed in students and adults alike.

We can’t effectively discuss flexible thinking without broaching the subject of margin and anxiety.  Margin is the bank of reserves we have available of time, money or maybe patience.  It’s what we may have set aside in case of emergencies, the unexpected or surprises.  

When students are in a state of ease (lots of margin), mental flexibility is much easier.  They may be open to considering or even trying new things, open to learning and even solving problems.  The opposite is also true, when students are in a state of stress, they are generally out of margin, are less flexible and more rigid.   

Students are more open to flexible thinking when they have a process they can control to manage their affairs.  Learning that process begins with managing time/tasks effectively so they can build margin into their day and week for self care, self management and planning.  

Time Management →  Margin →  Flexible Thinking

Once students have a process to see and plan their time and tasks, they can build the muscle of flexible thinking by being rewarded for variations and adjustments to their processes, like a science experiment and soliciting their feedback on those adjustments (metacognitive exercise).

For students with executive functioning difficulties, flexibility thinking and structure are important opposites to balance.  A problem can have more than one solution!  Students are more open to flexible thinking when they feel safe, have a process they can follow and are rewarded for trying new solutions.     

Want to learn more about executive functioning and how it may help your student?  Contact us!

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