How to Develop and Practice Self-Regulation (2023)

Self-regulation is the ability to control one's behavior, emotions, and thoughts in the pursuit of long-term goals. More specifically, emotional self-regulation refers to the ability to manage disruptive emotions and impulses—in other words, to think before acting.

Self-regulation also involves the ability to rebound from disappointment and to act in a way consistent with your values. It is one of the five key components of emotional intelligence.

This article discusses how self-regulation develops and the important impact it can have. It also covers some common problems you may face and what you can do to self-regulate more effectively.

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How Self-Regulation Develops

Your ability to self-regulate as an adult has roots in your childhood. Learning how to self-regulate is an important skill that children learn both for emotional maturity and, later, for social connections.

In an ideal situation, a toddler who throws tantrums grows into a child who learns how to tolerate uncomfortable feelings without throwing a fit, and later into an adult who is able to control impulses to act based on uncomfortable feelings.

In essence, maturity reflects the ability to face emotional, social, and cognitive threats in the environment with patience and thoughtfulness. If this description reminds you of mindfulness, that's no accident—mindfulness does indeed relate to the ability to self-regulate.

Why Self-Regulation Is Important

Self-regulation involves taking a pause between a feeling and an action—taking the time to think things through, make a plan, wait patiently. Children often struggle with these behaviors, and adults may as well.

(Video) Self-Regulation Skills: Why They Are Fundamental

It's easy to see how a lack of self-regulation will cause problems in life. A child who yells or hits other children out of frustration will not be popular among peers and may face discipline at school.

An adult with poor self-regulation skills may lack self-confidence and self-esteem and have trouble handling stress and frustration. Often, this might result in anger or anxiety. In more severe cases, it can even lead to being diagnosed with a mental health condition.

Qualities of Self-Regulators

In general, people who are adept at self-regulating tend to be able to:

  • Act in accordance with their values
  • Calm themselves when upset
  • Cheer themselves when feeling down
  • Maintain open communication
  • Persist through difficult times
  • Put forth their best effort
  • Remain flexible and adapting to situations
  • See the good in others
  • Stay clear about their intentions
  • Take control of situations when necessary
  • View challenges as opportunities

Self-regulation allows you to act in accordance with your deeply held values or social conscience and to express yourself appropriately. If you value academic achievement, it will allow you to study instead of slack off before a test. If you value helping others, it will allow you to help a coworker with a project, even if you are on a tight deadline yourself.

In its most basic form, self-regulation allows us to be more resilient and bounce back from failure while also staying calm under pressure. Researchers have found that self-regulation skills are tied to a range of positive health outcomes. This includes better resilience to stress, increased happiness, and better overall well-being.


Self-regulation can play an important role in relationships, well-being, and overall success in life. People who can manage their emotions and control their behavior are better able to manage stress, deal with conflict, and achieve their goals.

Common Self-Regulation Problems

How do problems with self-regulation develop? It could start early, such as an infant being neglected. A child who does not feel safe and secure, or who is unsure whether their needs will be met, may have trouble self-soothing and self-regulating.

Later, a child, teen, or adult may struggle with self-regulation, either because this ability was not developed during childhood, or because of a lack of strategies for managing difficult feelings. When left unchecked, over time this could lead to more serious issues such as mental health disorders and risky behaviors such as substance use.

Effective Strategies for Self-Regulation

If self-regulation is so important, why were most of us never taught strategies for using this skill? Most often, parents, teachers, and other adults expect that children will "grow out of" the tantrum phase. While this is true for the most part, all children and adults can benefit from learning concrete strategies for self-regulation.

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According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), mindfulness is "the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally."

By engaging in skills such as focused breathing and gratitude, mindfulness enables us to put some space between ourselves and our reactions, leading to better focus and feelings of calmness and relaxation.

In a 2019 review of 27 research studies, mindfulness was shown to improve attention, which in turn helped with regulating negative emotions and improving executive function.

Cognitive Reappraisal

Cognitive reappraisal, or cognitive reframing, is another strategy that can be used to improve self-regulation abilities. This strategy involves changing thought patterns. Specifically, cognitive reappraisal involves reinterpreting a situation in order to change the emotional response to it.

For example, imagine a friend did not return your calls or texts for several days. Rather than thinking that this reflected something about yourself, such as "my friend hates me," you might instead think, "my friend must be really busy." Research has shown that using cognitive reappraisal in everyday life is related to experiencing more positive and fewer negative emotions.

In a 2016 study examining the link between self-regulation strategies (i.e., mindfulness, cognitive reappraisal, and emotion suppression) and emotional well-being, researchers found cognitive reappraisal to be associated with daily positive emotions, including feelings of enthusiasm, happiness, satisfaction, and excitement.

Some other useful strategies for self-regulation include acceptance and problem-solving. In contrast, unhelpful strategies that people sometimes use include avoidance, distraction, suppression, and worrying.


You can improve your self-regulation skills by practicing mindfulness and changing how you think about the situation.

Putting Self-Regulation Into Practice

If you or your child needs help with self-regulation, there are strategies you can use to improve skills in this area.

Helping Kids With Self-Regulation

In children, parents can help develop self-regulation through routines (e.g., regular mealtimes and consistent bedtime routines). Routines help children learn what to expect, which makes it easier for them to feel comfortable.

When children act in ways that don't demonstrate self-regulation, ignore their requests. For example, if they interrupt a conversation, don't stop your discussion to attend to their needs. Tell that that they will need to wait.

(Video) Cookie Monster Practices Self-Regulation | Life Kit Parenting | NPR

Self-Regulation Tips for Adults

The first step to practicing self-regulation is to recognize that everyone has a choice in how to react to situations. While you may feel like life has dealt you a bad hand, it's not the hand you are dealt, but how you react to it that matters most.

  • Recognize that in every situation you have three options: approach, avoidance, and attack. While it may feel as though your choice of behavior is out of your control, it's not. Your feelings may sway you more toward one path, but you are more than those feelings.
  • Become aware of your emotions. Do you feel like running away from a difficult situation? Do you feel like lashing out in anger at someone who has hurt you?
  • Monitor your body to get clues about how you are feeling if it is not immediately obvious to you. For example, a rapidly increasing heart rate may be a sign that you are entering a state of rage or even experiencing a panic attack.

Start to restore balance by focusing on your deeply held values, rather than those transient emotions. Look beyond momentary discomfort to the larger picture.


Recognizing your options can help you put your self-regulation skills into practice. Focus on identifying what you are feeling, but remember that feelings are not facts. Giving yourself time to stay calm and deliberate your options can help you make better choices.

A Word From Verywell

Once you've learned this delicate balancing act, you will begin to self-regulate more often, and it will become a way of life for you. Developing self-regulation skills will improve your resilience and ability to face difficult circumstances in life.

However, if you find you are unable to teach yourself to self-regulate, consider consulting amental health professional. A trained therapist can help you learn and implement strategies and skills specific to your situation. Therapy can also be a great place to practice those skills for use in your everyday life.

Frequently Asked Questions


How do you develop self-regulation? ›

There are a number of skills that can help us self-regulate our emotions.
  1. Create space. Emotions happen fast. ...
  2. Noticing what you feel. ...
  3. Naming what you feel. ...
  4. Accepting the emotion. ...
  5. Practicing mindfulness. ...
  6. Identify and reduce triggers. ...
  7. Tune into physical symptoms. ...
  8. Consider the story you are telling yourself.
22 Jun 2021

What is self-regulation answer? ›

Self-regulation is the ability to understand and manage your behaviour and your reactions to feelings and things happening around you. It includes being able to: regulate reactions to strong emotions like frustration, excitement, anger and embarrassment. calm down after something exciting or upsetting.

How can self-regulation be improved in learning? ›

Five common instructional practices that have been cited as effective in helping students learn self-regulation are:
  1. Guide learners' self-beliefs, goal setting, and expectations. ...
  2. Promote reflective dialogue. ...
  3. Provide corrective feedback. ...
  4. Help learners make connections between abstract concepts.

How do students develop self-regulation skills? ›

Helping Students Develop Self-Regulation Skills
  1. Following rules and directions.
  2. Setting goals and carrying out plans to achieve those goals.
  3. Organizing and managing time and materials.
  4. Using strategies and resources.
  5. Staying on-task, working independently, and completing tasks.
  6. Asking for help when needed.
13 Feb 2017

What is self-regulation examples? ›

In psychology, self-regulation has come to mean regulation by the self, not just of the self. For example, we actively regulate or control whether or not we go to the gym, eat a piece of cake, or have a positive attitude.

Why is self-regulation important? ›

Self-regulation can play an important role in relationships, well-being, and overall success in life. People who can manage their emotions and control their behavior are better able to manage stress, deal with conflict, and achieve their goals.

What are the 4 self-regulation skills? ›

There are four basic self-regulation strategies that all students need to be able to use: goal-setting, self-monitoring, effective use of self-instructions or self-talk, and self-reinforcement.

How do you practice self-regulation and discipline in fully online mode of learning? ›

Try to follow a routine

Just like traditional classrooms have 'Time-tables' that are adhered to, in order to make the most of an online learning environment, it is important that you stick to a schedule. This will bring about the discipline that is needed to sit down at a designated time each day and learn.

How do you improve self-regulation in the workplace? ›

How to improve your self-regulation abilities
  1. Practice self-awareness.
  2. Meditate.
  3. Exercise.
  4. Align your goals with your values.
  5. Be kind to yourself.
  6. Keep a journal.
  7. Engage in positive self-talk.
  8. Seek feedback.

What is one way you could teach students self-regulation and self awareness? ›

And one of the most important ways of teaching self-regulation in the classroom is sharing your feelings. There are times you feel irritated or defeated. Sharing those experiences with your students can help them learn to identify and label their feelings.

What is another word for self-regulation? ›

In this page you can discover 7 synonyms, antonyms, idiomatic expressions, and related words for self-regulating, like: self-adjusting, self-activating, self-acting, motorized, mechanical, self-moving and automatic.

What is meant by self-regulated learning? ›

Self-regulated learning is a cyclical process, wherein the student plans for a task, monitors their performance, and then reflects on the outcome. The cycle then repeats as the student uses the reflection to adjust and prepare for the next task.

How do you develop emotional control? ›

5 ways to gain control over your emotions
  1. Self care. ...
  2. Maintain healthy relationships. ...
  3. Stop suppressing and start reappraising. ...
  4. Practice mindfulness. ...
  5. Prevent emotional outbursts If you've ever blown something small out of proportion, you probably felt pretty bad afterward.
13 Nov 2020

How do you self-regulate when your angry? ›

Strategies to keep anger at bay
  1. Relaxation. Simple relaxation tools, such as deep breathing and relaxing imagery, can help calm down angry feelings. ...
  2. Cognitive restructuring. ...
  3. Problem solving. ...
  4. Better communication. ...
  5. Using humor. ...
  6. Changing your environment. ...
  7. Some other tips for easing up on yourself.
3 Mar 2022

What is self-regulation a key measure of? ›

Background: The Self-Regulation Questionnaire (SRQ) is an instrument employed to measure the generalized ability to regulate behavior. Self-regulation is related to the management of risk behaviors, such as drug abuse or anti-social behaviors.

What are the three key factors that influence the development of self-regulation? ›


The most internal factor influencing a child's capacity for self-regulation is comprised of the child's biology, genetics, and temperament, which contribute to individual differences in self-regulation.

What are some self-regulation skills? ›

Be kind to yourself

One of the most important aspects of self-regulation is to practice self-compassion and give yourself some grace when you're struggling. Remember, nothing is perfect and we learn through failing. Another strategy is to practice positivity by celebrating small wins or when you achieve a goal.

What are the three components of effective self-regulation? ›

The three essential components of academic self-regulation—planning, problem solving, and self-evaluation—usually occur in a specific sequence (Cleary & Zimmerman, 2002; Zimmerman, 2008).

What are the 4 zones of regulation? ›

The tool “Zones of Regulation” involves four phases of alertness and emotion- Blue,Green, Yellow, and Red. Most teachers who use this tool have a poster for each color in their classroom, with a small picture and label for different emotions that students can use to identify how they feel.

What is meant by self regulated learning? ›

Self-regulated learning refers to one's ability to under- stand and control one's learning environment. Self- regulation abilities include goal setting, self- monitoring, self-instruction, and self-reinforcement (Harris & Graham, 1999; Schraw, Crippen, & Hartley, 2006; Shunk, 1996).

What is another word for self-regulation? ›

In this page you can discover 7 synonyms, antonyms, idiomatic expressions, and related words for self-regulating, like: self-adjusting, self-activating, self-acting, motorized, mechanical, self-moving and automatic.

How do you develop emotional control? ›

5 ways to gain control over your emotions
  1. Self care. ...
  2. Maintain healthy relationships. ...
  3. Stop suppressing and start reappraising. ...
  4. Practice mindfulness. ...
  5. Prevent emotional outbursts If you've ever blown something small out of proportion, you probably felt pretty bad afterward.
13 Nov 2020

How does self-regulation affect learning? ›

Developing this skill set allows students to learn more effectively because they are able to set clear goals for themselves and monitor their progress based on their goals and strategies. Self-regulation allows students to become less reactive and more proactive in their learning.

What is effective self-regulation? ›

Effective self-regulation includes the ability to adapt oneself to diverse circumstances. It is a vital aspect of human success in life.

What factors affect self-regulation? ›

The act of self-regulating is dependent on several different factors that interact with each other, those that are individual to the child or youth as well as those that are external or environmental, including biology, skills, motivation, caregiver support, and environmental context.

What is the primary source of self-regulation? ›

Dynamic self-regulation is nonexecutive, unintentional, and effort-free in nature. As such, it is viewed as the primary source of internal self-regulation in natural contexts and an essential prerequisite for active self-regulation.

How do you start a zone of Regulation? ›

Here are 18 engaging Zones of Regulation activities to support the emotional growth of your students.
  1. Identify feelings by giving them a color. ...
  2. Play a round of Monster Feelings Match-Up. ...
  3. Go on an emotions scavenger hunt. ...
  4. Make cootie catchers. ...
  5. Play the Emotions Sorting Game. ...
  6. Make a calm-down sandwich. ...
  7. Play Behavior Bingo.
25 Aug 2022

How do you move through the Zones of Regulation? ›

The Zones can be compared to traffic signs. When given a green light or in the Green Zone, one is “good to go”. A yellow sign means be aware or take caution, which applies to the Yellow Zone. A red light or stop sign means stop, and when one is the Red Zone this often is the case.

What is self-regulation in critical thinking? ›

Self-regulation is a process; it requires learners to direct their own thoughts, allowing them to apply their cognitive efforts towards specific skills (Zimmerman, 2002). Within this process, individuals are an active, guiding component of their learning.


1. emotional regulation technique for anxiety, panic, anger, depression
(schema therapy)
2. Do you have the ability to regulate your thoughts and emotions?
(The Holistic Psychologist)
3. How to Be More DISCIPLINED - 6 Ways to Master Self Control
(Thomas Frank)
4. The Cycle of Self-Regulated Learning | PATHS
(PATHS by York University )
5. What is Self-Regulation | Explained in 2 min
(Productivity Guy)
6. Self Management / Self regulation EQ Masterclass Chapter 4
(Positive Revolution)
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