Beginning at a young age, children are exposed to language in many forms, including hearing stories, listening to music, playing with peers, and listening to caregivers in their ever-changing environments. Through this exposure, they start their journey toward learning the foundational pieces of human interaction.

By using basic sounds, words, gestures, and alternative ways of communicating, children learn by observing their surroundings and adapting to meet their needs. However, communication is not the only foundational skill needed to facilitate social-emotional development. The ability to achieve a positive state of regulation is also an important piece.

Self-regulation is a person’s ability to monitor and control his/her behavior, emotions, and thoughts depending on changes in the environment. Regulating one’s emotions is often needed in order to develop and access skills needed for language development. Think of it this way – when children (or adults) are well-regulated, they are able to devote their cognitive resources and attention to higher level functions, including engaging with others and communicating. For that reason, identifying and utilizing strategies for achieving self-regulation is favorable for expanding children’s early-developing language skills and teaching them how to safely, confidently, and effectively interact with others.

While the following characteristics are not always indicative of regulation concerns, they may be something to discuss with a child’s pediatrician or therapy team. Challenges with:

  • Motor planning and motor skills
  • Impulse control
  • Adaptability to new settings
  • Focus and sustained attention
  • Shifting attention
  • Effective communication of wants/needs
  • Following directions
  • Taking turns
  • Demonstrating the ability to wait
  • Identifying emotions and managing emotional responses
  • Managing thoughts

You may consider collaborating with your pediatrician to identify an occupational therapist (OT) and/or certified occupational therapy assistant (COTA) in your area. These highly skilled and creative therapists are trained to assess the skills needed to achieve self-regulation, among many other skills, and they can collaborate with families and other therapists to identify strategies to assist with regulation in a variety of environments. Through frequent collaboration between occupational therapy and speech and language therapy, children can build the skills needed to achieve and maintain a self-regulation while developing the language skills needed to request strategies, engage with others, meet their basic wants and needs, and build meaningful relationships with others.

By: Erin L. Rutkowsky, MS, CCC-SLP (2010, April 28). Self-regulation: The key to successful students?