Like it or not, we all have to regulate our bodies and ourselves at various times throughout the day. Self-regulation is the ability to control our behavior and provide an appropriate response despite sensory input, distress, and situations. As adults we have to wait in lines, traffic, wait for our kids to get ready, deal with stressful situations, etc. Similarly, our kids have to regulate their bodies and selves throughout the day: at school, at home, and in the community.
Self-regulation takes practice and discipline. It matures just like any other developmental process. Here are some fun games and tricks to help practice self-regulation with our children outside of the regular demands of life.
Common games that work on self-regulation techniques:
Simon Says: The leader can call out a command (i.e., “Simon says touch your head”) if the individual does not follow the command they are out. Modifications: insert your name for “Simon” to decrease confusion for kids, or to increase the challenge, call out body parts while alternating demonstrating the correct and incorrect body part to increase the level of attention and difficulty.
Red light, green light (you can add in yellow light for slow, and keep them on their toes by calling out random colors to make sure they are listening too). Have the children stand across a given distance from you, and they can move forward when green light is called, stop/freeze when red light is called, and move slowly when yellow light is called. The objective is to be the first person to reach the individual calling out the commands. If they don’t freeze on the red light command, they have to go back a given distance or to the start. Modification: use red, green, and yellow pieces of paper (with or without STOP, GO, SLOW written on them), and pair visual with verbal command or simple provide the visual without giving verbal directions. This can be played on bikes, scooter boards, their own feet, or in an animal walk position.
Freeze Dance: The child will dance around as music plays, when the music stops, they should freeze in the last position they were in when the music was playing.
Head-shoulders-knees and toes song
Music moves/drum beats: Leader will play a certain tempo music or beat to a certain rhythm (i.e. fast, slow…) and the child has to move accordingly. When the music speeds up, so do they; when it slows down they should mimic the speed; and when the music or beat stops, their bodies should freeze.
How to incorporate it into daily activities:
Cooking with your child: find an easy recipe and cook with your child. Have them follow the directions along with you, then have them mix at different speeds (i.e. mix slowly, then quickly, then in the middle; have the child think about the difference in the feeling between the slow and quick mixing).
Irregular counting: When counting in fun activities use irregular counting speeds on occasion (generating various different lengths of time between each number), this can help children have to wait for the cue, even when they can anticipate and know what should come next.
Another important tip, is to make sure there is time in your schedule to allow your child free time/free play where there are lest rules, demands, and restrictions placed. This will help give them some freedom in play, and can help improve the times where they do have to regulate and obey.
Movement and deep breathing exercise are very helpful for children when learning to self-regulate. Remember, above are just fun games to use in addition to tools and other techniques to help children who struggle with self-regulation. If you want recommendations for tools, strategies, and education on self-regulation in the classroom or community ask your friendly Occupational Therapist (OT) at your next visit, they are a wealth of knowledge and will know your child and his/her needs best!
-Allison, Occupational Therapy Team