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120 Emotional Self-Regulation Ideas for Kids

What’s inside this article: A look at different forms of emotional regulation, how to choose strategies that are effective for your child(ren), and a list of 120 emotional regulation ideas to inspire you to find effective techniques.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.

Emotional dysregulation means that an emotional response does not fall within the conventionally accepted range of emotive responses.

In other words, your kid is literally losing their S*&# because you gave them the wrong color socks today.

Emotional Self-Regulation and Dysregulation

When our kids are not well regulated, they start to “act out”, and you see “behaviors”. Basically, they just don’t have the skills to manage or express their emotions on their own.

Actually, there’s a good chance that they don’t even know what the emotion they’re feeling is.  You can’t cope with something that you can’t even label or understand.

But good news! You can teach emotional self-regulation skills. This post contains a ton of strategies to do just that.

Types of Emotional Regulation

There are actually two types of emotional regulation. These are mutual regulation (sometimes called co-regulation) and self-regulation.

Mutual Regulation

Mutual regulation (or co-regulation) means your child needs YOU to help them regulate their emotions. When they’re upset you need to soothe them, help them calm down. They can not use healthy coping strategies on their own.

Most kids with autism are dependant upon mutual regulation some, if not all, the time. Does your child come to you when they need help regulating? Or, do you need to recognize behavioral cues and be proactive?


Self-regulation means your child can calm down and cope with their emotions all on their own. They can walk away from a frustrating situation. They can take deep breaths to calm down and return to an activity.

Your child may even recover from a meltdown on their own.

There’s a developmental trajectory of milestones your child will meet as their self-regulation skills develop.

First will be mutual regulation, with you responding to their cues. Next, they’ll initiate the mutual regulation. Then, some self-regulation skills emerge with you modeling the right strategies.

Over time as skills develop your child will start being able to recover from meltdowns sooner, and they will be less intense.

Choosing Emotional Regulation Strategies that Work for You

First, figure out where your child currently sits on the developmental trajectory of emotional self-regulation skills.

You need to know this when you’re picking what strategies are going to work best for you.

There are actually three things you need to consider when you’re deciding which emotional regulation strategies to teach and use.

1. Developmentally Appropriate

First of all, choose strategies that are appropriate for your child’s current level of ability. All kids are unique with their own strengths and weaknesses and unique emotional regulation needs.

2. Functional

You need to choose strategies that are functional. What I mean by this is – your kid needs to be able to use them when they need them during their regular day-to-day routine.

Where does your child spend most of their time? Home, school, the playground? When choosing coping strategies think – will they be able to practice those strategies in these environments when they need to?

3. Align with Family Values

This one is more so for care providers and educators. If you’re teaching or caring for a child with autism or ADHD, you need to make sure that any strategies you teach that child are consistent with the family’s priorities and values.

Parents and educators must work as a team at all times to provide consistency. Having constant communication and an open line to sharing information is the key to success.

Special Contexts

These are just a few other things to think about as you choose emotional regulation strategies that will encourage healthy coping skills for your child.

These are in no particular order but are here to make you think about how your child’s emotional regulation is affected by different scenarios. How is your child affected by the following:

  • Group sizes? Large or small
  • New environment vs familiar environment?
  • Familiar caregiver vs unfamiliar caregiver?
  • When feeling sick or tired?
  • When feeling hungry?
  • Can they transition well? Think – how would your child react if they were engaged in a fun activity and suddenly had to stop to sit in their chair for a snack?

Keeping in mind how these different contexts can affect your child, you may choose different strategies and supports, depending on the situation.

Emotional Self-Regulation Strategies

Mutual Regulation Strategies

  1. Play mindfulness games (check out these activity cards)
  2. Model calm behavior
  3. Model the self-regulation strategies you want to teach
  4. Set up opportunities for success
  5. Use more positive reinforcement
  6. Have a consistent daily routine
  7. Have a bedtime routine
  8. Offer a break
  9. Offer choices
  10. Have a break box available
  11. Remove triggers
  12. Have a visual schedule
  13. Offer a snack
  14. Offer a drink
  15. Do a movement break – see: 15 fun workouts for kids
  16. Read a story
  17. Give a hug
  18. Match their language
  19. Get on their level, see the situation from their shoes
  20. Use these sensory diet cards together
  21. Use a timer
  22. Try using a first-then statement
  23. Give a compliment
  24. Hold their hand
  25. Offer a sensory item like a weighted lap pad, or a resistance tunnel
  26. Diffuse calming essential oils
  27. Just ask “What would help you right now?”
  28. Talk about something they like
  29. Take them for a walk
  30. Offer solutions
  31. Remove the audience
  32. VisualizationClose your eyes and imagine your favorite place
  33. Ask them to draw you a picture
  34. Have a reward system for positive behavior
  35. Squish them – get your child to lay on the floor and squish them by rolling an exercise ball over them
  36. Use a massager
  37. Use a therapy brush
  38. Talk about feelings and size of the problem
  39. Use the feelings check-in sheet
  40. Say “It makes sense that you feel _____________”
  41. Say, in a calm voice, “You are safe right now”
  42. Create some sensory bins
  43. Get them to blow pom-poms around the table or through a maze with a straw
  44. Create a social story
  45. Talk about upcoming transitions ahead of time
  46. Rock them calmly
  47. Wrap them in a weighted blanket
  48. Turn on the music and have an impromptu dance party
  49. Ask them to help you with something they’re good at
  50. Offer to do the task together
  51. Stop talking or making demands
  52. Use physical reinforcers like stickers or candy
  53. Take a Time-In in a calm down corner
  54. Use these fun brain break cards (free printable)

Self-Regulation Strategies

  1. Take deep breaths
  2. Think of something that makes you laugh
  3. Go for a walk
  4. Slowly count backward from 10
  5. Squeeze a stress ball as hard as you can (Read: Do stress balls actually work?)
  6. Swing on the swings
  7. Draw a picture of something that makes you happy
  8. Write a letter
  9. Listen to music
  10. Play with play-doh
  11. Talk to a grown-up
  12. Talk to a friend
  13. Color a picture
  14. Use positive affirmations
  15. Make a list of things that you love
  16. Close your eyes and think about your favorite place
  17. Read a book
  18. Rip up paper
  19. Scream into a pillow
  20. Do some yoga
  21. Ask for a hug
  22. Hug your favorite stuffed animal
  23. Spend time with a pet
  24. Watch funny videos
  25. Identify your emotions
  26. Write your feelings down
  27. Tell someone how you’re feeling
  28. Ask for help
  29. Hang upside down
  30. Chew a piece of gum
  31. Build with Lego
  32. Bounce on a therapy ball
  33. Do 10 jumping jacks
  34. Snuggle with your favorite blanket
  35. Blow bubbles
  36. Make funny faces in the mirror
  37. Pop bubble wrap
  38. Sing your favorite song
  39. Dance
  40. Look through a photo album
  41. Make jewelry with beads and pipe cleaner
  42. Watch a calm down bottle
  43. Watch a lava lamp
  44. Doodle
  45. Use a fidget toy
  46. Go outside
  47. Turn off the lights and look at something that glows in the dark
  48. Get some sleep
  49. Have a healthy snack
  50. Daydream about the perfect day
  51. Help someone else
  52. Watch the clouds
  53. Jump on a trampoline
  54. Play with a hula hoop
  55. Write a love letter to yourself
  56. Punch your pillow
  57. Play with a Rubik’s cube
  58. Keep a comforting object with you
  59. Use a scratch art doodle pad
  60. Shake up a snow globe and watch it settle
  61. Look through a kaleidoscope
  62. Draw with an etch-a-sketch
  63. Look at photos of family
  64. Write in a positivity journal
  65. Watch your favorite movie
  66. Do a sticker-by-number art
  67. Rub your thumb on a chakra worry stone
emotional self-regulation strategies

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