Mind Over Matter: Cultivating Self-Regulation Through Mindful Practices 

Amidst the milestones of first steps, first words and first sports games, lies arguably the most crucial aspect of child development: self-regulation. This ability to manage one’s emotions, behaviors, and attention effectively is the skill that lays the foundation for success in various areas of life. As parents, fostering self-regulation in our children is not only beneficial for their current well-being but also sets them up for a fruitful future.  

While building your child’s self-regulation can seem a novel task, you can serve as an impactful co-regulator by incorporating these simple mindful practices into your child’s life when their emotions, behavior, or attention becomes dysregulated.  

  1. Take a Time-In: When things go awry in the world of our child, the most important thing to do in the moment is offer a connection. Taking five minutes to establish this connection, through physical touch, singing, swaying, or just sitting in silence, will assist your child in finding the calmness they need to move forward.  
  1. Validate and Label Emotions: Strong self-regulation abilities go hand in hand with one’s emotional intelligence. When your child is upset, start by assuring them that their emotions are valid using empathetic language to convey understanding and normalize their experience. For example, you might say something like: 
     
    “Oh, it looks like the tower fell, and you’re feeling really upset about it. I understand – you worked so hard on that. It’s okay to feel frustrated. Let’s take a deep breath together. Would you like me to help you rebuild it, or do you want to try again on your own?” 
  1. Tense and Release: Encourage your child to tightly clench their fists and then exhale to let go. Repeat this process several times, exploring tension in different body parts such as legs, arms, or even the face. This exercise, known as progressive muscle relaxation, is effective in lowering heart rate and decreasing cortisol levels. 
     
  1. Cool It Down: When our little one’s minds and bodies get heated, offering them a cool glass of water, frozen fruit, or a splash of cold water on their wrist can reset their nervous system. 
  1. Just Breathe: Encourage your child to focus on their breath, noticing the sensations of inhaling and exhaling. Practice belly breathing, where they place one hand on their stomach and feel it rise and fall with each breath. Learning to take controlled breaths, especially in times of dysregulation, empowers our child to manage their emotions, calm their minds, stay focused, and make intentional choices in various aspects of their lives. 
  1. Engage in Mindful Play: Certain games work to connect children’s movements with their senses, aiding in regulating their bodies, sensations, and thoughts. Playing alongside a supportive adult provides children with the confidence and encouragement to explore new experiences. Some classic games that target self-regulation skills are Simon Says, Red Light Green Light, Freeze Dance, What Time Is It Mr. Wolf, and even Jenga! 

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