Self Regulation

Self-regulation? Does TSK (That Special Kid) do it? Can you do it? The definition of canstockphoto2539953“regulate” is to control or to direct according to a rule or law. So, to learn to Self-Regulate, in our context means to learn to calm down when we get upset.

Brain Development

  1. The first parts of the brain to develop are the ones to control the basics, like heart rate and breathing.
  2. The next parts to develop are the emotional parts, that can pump out that stress hormone, Cortisol to increase our heart rate and make us more alert to get ready to run or stand our ground, and when we are little, Cortisol can cause us to cry and throw fits.  This is very helpful to let parents know something is wrong.  But, too much Cortisol can hurt the body long term, so your TSK needs to learn to stop the crying and being mad part; TSK needs to learn to Self-Regulate!
  3. The last Brain part to develop is the “Thinking” part of the brain, the cortex.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t start to get in control until somewhere around 2 to 3 years, and doesn’t finish developing until we are about 25 years of age. This “Thinking” does lots of things, like letting TSK learn to read, and to do math problems, and to help others, and…. To stop being mad and upset… That Self-Regulate thing!!!

Learning to Calm Down… or Self-Regulate

But even as an infant, it is best for TSK to make the “mad” go away quickly in most instances, as having too much of that Cortisol floating around stresses the body, into heart attacks, arthritis, diabetes and other conditions.

Cortisol is necessary for life; we just want it to come when needed, and not too often!

Now some of us calm down easier than others, but are there things that you can do to teach or help your child to learn to calm down faster?

Well, a study out of the journal Pediatrics, tells of one thing that DOESN’T work; spending time in front of the TV!

Kids under 2 years of age who spent more time with TV and media DIDN’T calm down as well as those who weren’t exposed to the media. 

They looked at 9 month babies and then at the same kids at 2 years.

At 9 months of age they asked questions like:

  1.  “Is your baby frequently irritable or fussy?”
  2. “Does he/she go quickly from a whimper to an intense cry?”
  3.  “Does he/she demanding of your attention and company constantly?”,
  4. “Does he/she need lots of help to fall asleep, such as rocking, long walks, car rides (remember this is at 9 months of age)”
  5. “Does he/she startle or get upset with loud sounds like a vacuum, doorbell or barking dog?”

At 2 years of age parents were asked the same questions plus more on the ability to stay playing with an object for a few minutes, but then be able to change attention as needed to something else.

It was found that 9 month and 2 year old kids who seemed to get upset very quickly and couldn’t calm down, spent more time in front of a TV or at least had more media available. 

One theory was that parents might use media to help calm the child down.  But others wondered if more time with media under age 2 years may affect how well a child learns to self-regulate.  At this time, nobody knows.

But here are a few take-home messages;

  1. No studies show that TV before the age of 2 years helps TSK to learn more or to be able to get over being angry or sad, or to act better towards others.
  2. When kids get too over-whelmed with life, they can get over-tired, and thus can get fussy.
  3. Check to see if TSK is uncomfortable with being wet, dirty, sick, hungry, or tired.  Take care of these needs first!!!
  4. Routines help TSK know what to expect.  He/she is more likely to calm down more quickly if his needs are met the same, each time.

Know about Re-Group Time and how to use it to teach Self-Regulation…What is That?

So…you’ve done  all these things, and TSK is STILL FUSSY…now what?

  1. Leave TSK alone for only a short time, but without noise or distraction to self-regulate.
    1. TSK may be overwhelmed and is crying and fussy because the brain needs some time calm down.
    2. Often, this needs to be done alone.
    3. The brain pathways need some time to figure this out.
  2. Once TSK calms down, the you can start engaging again, with smiling, laughing, playing, and all the fun things you do so well!


If the TSK is just automatically put in front of the TV when fussy, then the child has to overcome the noise and flashing pictures, and this may be over-stimulating for the young infant.

If older TSKs are placed in front of the TV a lot, then the brain may be missing real opportunities to grow through actual talking and playing with things.

This can be started at a few months of age.  The longer you wait, the harder it will be for TSK to adjust, especially if he “learns” or gets used to having the TV or noise.  (There are some people who have gotten so used to noise, they have to have it to sleep.  There is concern that this affects how well the brain can process information  during sleep!)

Could there be something wrong with TSK?

If your TSK is continually fussy or can’t calm down easily, see your doctor;  there are some conditions that can cause this as well.

Have fun Self-Regulating!  Give that kid a hug, and work to keep that Cortisol level where it belong! Gene