5 Overlooked Coping Tools For Self-Regulation

Boy hunched over tennis net

First, it’s important to know what exactly self-regulation is.

According to Psychology Today, self-regulation behaviorally is “the ability to act in your long-term best interest, consistent with your deepest values.” Additionally, from an emotional standpoint, self-regulation is “the ability to calm yourself down when you’re upset and cheer yourself up when you’re down.”

Children with special needs often struggle with self-regulation.

These everyday struggles can be quite a challenge as a child can react in unpredictable or even explosive ways to events.

Tired Of The Endless Search For Answers?

Schedule A Free Consultation With A Special Education Expert Today!
Free Consultation

Identifying coping tools for a child with these needs can help regulate their responses and provide more avenues of self-soothing.

5 Overlooked Coping Tools For Self-Regulation;

1. Give words/colors to feelings

Many students are unable to express how they are feeling; they may react to their feelings but may be unable to verbally express how they are feeling.

A great way to teach child their feelings is a method called; The Zones Of Regulation. The zones of regulation give each feeling a color. This makes it easier for the child to express their feelings.

2. Find your child’s triggers

Build an understanding of situations that are most triggering you’re your child. Once identified, you can adapt your behaviors to help your child cope with these situations.

How do you determine what your child’s triggers are? These questions offer a great starting point and a quick way to help with each;

  • Does your child yell when you ask them to stop doing something or become upset when redirecting them to another activity? Offer your child a 5-minute warning before having them stop the activity or transition to another activity.
  • Does your child get anxious when their schedule changes? Make your child a visual schedule that goes through each activity they will do during the day.
  • Does your child get frustrated when they have multiple activities planned in one day? Try to arrange for downtime between activities, so your child can relax and do activities that they prefer.

3. Use tools that your child already knows  _   

If your child already does something that keeps them calm or makes them happy have them continue those activities. If your child is getting upset:

  • Ask if your child wants to take a break with calming activities.
  • If your child is upset, point out that they already have ways to calm them self down.

If your child does not have particular activities that calm them down, assist in identifying activities that self-soothe. For example:

  • Drawing /coloring
  • Exercising
  • Listening to music
  • Building with Legos

If your child is struggling to find activities that help them calm down, consider an interest indicator that can help you identify activities that your child may enjoy.

4. Listen to your child

When your child is upset, give them attention and try to understand what your child is going through. Even if you think what they are upset about isn’t a big deal; it is to your child. So instead of saying of putting your child down about being upset, be present and understand what your child is going through.

  • Focus on your child, do not focus on other tasks, it can wait!
  • Show active listening with your child; mirror your child’s complaints.
  • Help your child work through their problems, build a strategy for your child and identify what the next step will be.

5. Encourage communication

Many children believe that being frustrated or angry is a bad thing, or that they will get in trouble if they exhibit these emotions.

This belief enables a child to suppress emotions and hinders the ability of building self-regulation tools. As a parent or caregiver, one must encourage the child to disclose what they are feeling as a means to developing coping tools and strategies for those emotions.

While encouraging the child to discuss feelings, explain to them that it is not their feelings that can get them into trouble, it is how they respond to those feelings.

These coping tools can help a child self-soothe and provide different strategies for parents to help a child cope with unpleasant emotions .


What have you used in these types of situations?



Picture of McKenzie Wickham, M.S.Ed

McKenzie Wickham, M.S.Ed

One comment

  1. Very nicely done, McKenzie. I especially appreciate item #5. “While encouraging the child to discuss feelings, explain to them that it is not their feelings that can get them into trouble, it is how they respond to those feelings” as this is a such a large component to anyone’s ability to self-regulate, but most especially our ‘special needs’ kiddos.

    Most appreciative of this article and its reminders.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

blog form headline-2 special ed resources