How can I help my child . . . ?
- regulate their emotions?
- get/stay organized?
- take initiative and develop independence, (communicate problems and ask for what they need, stay organized, and set and reach goals )?
- manage stress and develop coping skills?
Self-management is also sometimes called “self-control,” or “self-regulation.” These skills help children manage their own behavior effectively in different situations and include:
- Getting and staying organized
- Managing time and schedules
- Keeping up with responsibilities
- Plan ahead and set goals for the future
- Staying motivated through challenges and setbacks
- Handling stress and pressure
- Calming down when feeling strong emotions
- Asking for help when needed
When children are very small, it is common for them to have meltdowns and tantrums. They are trying to express themselves and they do not have the language or self-control to manage what they are feeling. By the age of 5, and maybe even younger, they begin to identify their emotions and find ways to deal with strong feelings like anger, frustration and disappointment. As they approach elementary school, these skills become even more important.
When children reach elementary school, there is a new set of rules, expectations and routines. They learn how to take care of themselves, their belongings, and act in appropriate ways in various situations. These self-management skills are often learned in the classroom, where they are socialized with other children. They gain these skills from what their teacher models and teaches as well as from what their peers are doing. It is something that is taught and practiced.
Self-management skills go hand in hand with self-awareness. For example, in order to calm down when feeling strong emotions (self-management), children first need to be able to :
- identify their emotions (self-awareness)
- recognize the signs of stress (self-awareness) and
- know what will help them feel calm (self-awareness).
Why It Matters
Children develop and mature at different rates. Some of it depends on their temperament, exposure to school before kindergarten, or whether or not they have older siblings. Regardless, we know that in order for students to be successful in school and their relationships, they need to learn how to manage their emotions and take responsibility for themselves.
Research shows that young people with strong self-management skills
- do better and feel happier in school
- manage social stress and peer relationships more effectively
- are more likely to graduate from high school and go on to college
- have higher income levels and fewer financial problems later in life
- have fewer chronic health problems
- are less likely to misuse alcohol and other drugs
It is important to note that these expectations can be challenging and stressful, especially for children with ADHD or other learning disabilities that affect focus and organization. That is why it is up to the adults in their lives to help guide them and offer support so they can develop the strategies and skills necessary to be successful.
Take this brief survey to identify your child’s strengths and areas for further development in some key self-management skills.
1) When it comes to morning routines and getting ready for school (getting dressed, brushing teeth, gathering needed items, being ready to leave on time), my child:
- handles simple tasks themselves without a problem.
- sometimes needs reminders or a little help from me.
- needs a lot of support getting ready and remembering what they need to do/bring.
2) When it comes to their own room and belongings, my child:
- keeps their stuff neat and organized.
- is mostly organized and cleans up when asked.
- is disorganized and messy and has trouble keeping track of belongings.
3) When it comes to completing school work, chores, and other responsibilities, my child:
- can get started when I ask them to and doesn’t need help staying on task.
- needs a little support and supervision to stay on track.
- has trouble getting things done without a lot of help and reminders.
4) When my child is doing something that is challenging or requires effort, they:
- stay positive, stick to it, and keep going until they finish.
- may act frustrated, but eventually work through it.
- often react negatively or give up in frustration.
5) When my child feels overwhelmed or frustrated, they usually:
- ask for the help they need.
- accept help if it’s offered.
- tend to complain or give up.
6) When my child gets upset or has strong emotions, they:
- take time to calm down and respond thoughtfully.
- might lose their cool at first, but calm down easily and apologize later.
- lose control, react angrily, or blame others.
7) When my child gets stressed (frustrated, angry, etc), they:
- use suggested strategies or activities that help them relax.
- don’t do anything special, but eventually get past it.
- have a lot of trouble coping and calming down.
Strategies in answer A is what we are aiming for. For younger children, these skills and strategies may be developing and you will likely see them able to manage themselves on occasion or in certain situations. However, they may not master them until they are much older. The good news is you can take steps now to help them develop stronger self-management skills so that as they become more independent, they are also capable of being responsible for themselves.
Connect & Communicate:
You are the most important influence on your child and on their development of critical self- management skills. Helping them find ways to cope with stress and express their strong emotions appropriately will set them up for success in school and in their personal lives.
Start the Conversation:
Start with observations: “I notice that you get very frustrated when you can’t do something right away and you sometimes throw things or scream. What other ways can we show our frustration? What are some options for when you feel this way?”
Remind them it’s okay to ask for help: “You have a lot going on this week with school and other activities. Remember that you can always ask for help if things feel overwhelming.”
Model your own self-control: When feeling stressed or when dealing with conflict, say “I’m going to take a few breaths and calm down before I respond to your comment.”
Set the example: Talk with your child about what helps you stay organized, like entering tasks in your calendar or planner or making to-do lists. Younger children can start with organizing their rooms and the common area of the house.
Hand over some responsibility: Try to identify tasks your child can start doing for themselves, whether it’s making their own breakfast or lunch, helping out with the laundry, taking out the garbage, or walking the dog. Allow them to choose, but emphasize that family members helping out is part of living together.
Talk about the future: “If you could become or achieve anything, what would it be?” “What are some jobs or careers you’re interested in?” Talk about how their interests connect to different jobs or careers, and help them think through the steps toward achieving their goals.
Tips for teaching your child self management skills:
- Help them label their feelings
- Brainstorm ways of dealing with strong feelings (breathing, drawing, coloring, listening to music, getting exercise)
Practice: For example, if your child has a hard time managing feelings in a store, go there when it’s less urgent and practice walking through the isles while listening and following instructions. Praise them for getting through the store with no issues.
- Talk to your child about ways to manage their stress. Teach them strategies like taking deep breaths, counting slowly, taking a walk around the block, shooting hoops, or writing in a journal, listening to music.
- Model your own stress management.
- Do activities with your child like meditation, yoga or breathing techniques so that you model and teach them how to do this for themselves.
- Explain and model movement or exercise when they are stressed.
- Create a space where they can go if they feel stressed or anxious. Find toys, activities, stuffies they can have in the space that will make them feel calm.
- Free printables for coping skills: https://store.copingskillsforkids.com/pages/free-printables
- If you have a pet, make a list of what your child is responsible for doing. For example, maybe they feed it, give it water and go with you when you take it for a walk.
- Encourage your child to find opportunities at school for volunteering or being in a leadership role. This will help them build their sense of responsibility and community.
Time Management and Goal Setting
- Print out a blank weekly calendar template and have your child write down their schedule, including time for homework, chores, as well as free time.(A variety of fun, customizable templates can be found here \https://www.canva.com/planners/templates/weekly-schedule/).
- Set limits on screen time. Make sure they are getting exercise outside of school and not spending too much time at the computer or in front of the television.
- Set a goal, make a plan, choose a reward: Help your child choose a realistic, personal goal, for example, exercising three days a week, or practicing the piano a certain number of days. Help them identify when they’ll work on their goal and be specific about how much time they’ll spend on it. Have them choose how they’ll reward themself after they complete their goal. Check in on their progress weekly and offer encouragement. Treat them to the reward when they reach their goal.
- Set aside time for a weekly bag clean-out. Make it a weekly habit (Sunday nights are a great time) for you and your child to organize your backpack/bag/purse together. Doing it together will make it feel like less of a chore, and you can both start the week off on a good foot.
- Teach them that every item has a home. Allow them to help with ideas on how to organize their room and other shared parts of the house. Offer to purchase items that will help them stay organized at school and at home.
- Create a place and a time for studying.
- Get organizational tools for school work.
- Use the calendar for all family and personal events and have a weekly family meeting to go over them.
Remember that all of these are skills that you are helping your child build. We are not looking for perfection,but incremental progress. Don’t get discouraged if your child doesn’t get it at first or if they seem to do it once and then not again for a while. The goal is for consistency and small wins.
Contact & Collaborate:
Your child’s school along with local community organizations and other parents are great places to connect with for additional ways to support your child’s social development:
- Help your child establish a connection with their counselor. Set up a meeting or reach out by phone. Make sure your child feels comfortable going to their office when they feel anxious, need help managing their workload, or navigating social stress. If a counselor is not readily available, the nurse may be a good staff person to connect with your child.
- Talk to your child’s doctor about any issues that arise around self-management and ask for ways of dealing with it at home.
- Learn what your child’s school and other organizations in the local community have to offer in terms of tutoring and homework help, as well as community service and volunteer opportunities.
- Join a local parenting group on social media.
Explore these resources for more ideas on how to support your child’s development of self-management skills.
Child Mind Institute (videos): These are videos you and your elementary school child can watch and discuss. There are five different topics.
- Understanding feelings: https://childmind.org/healthyminds/understanding-feelings-parents-elementary/
- Relaxation Skills: https://childmind.org/healthyminds/relaxation-skills-parents-elementary/
- Understanding Thoughts: https://childmind.org/healthyminds/understanding-thoughts-parents-elementary/
- Managing Intense Emotions: https://childmind.org/healthyminds/managing-intense-emotions-parents-elementary/
- MIndfulness: https://childmind.org/healthyminds/mindfulness-parents-elementary/
Self-Regulation Strategies (article): Ideas for helping your child regulate their emotions
Kindergarten Self Management Skills (article): How parents can help their children
Child Mind Institute (parent training programs): This lists different types of parent training programs for those interested in learning how to be coaches to their children: https://childmind.org/article/choosing-a-parent-training-program/
Parenting: It Takes a VIllage (podcast): Improving your Child’s Self-Management Skills https://www.audible.com/pd/Improving-your-childs-self-management-skills-Podcast/B08ZCWMJVX
The Art of Education (podcast): Self-management https://theartofeducation.edu/podcasts/the-art-of-sel-episode-3-self-management/
Teaching Exceptionally (podcast) Self Management Strategies for Students with ASD
Getting and Staying Organized
Understood (article): 10 Ideas to Help Your Child Stay Organized
Very Well Family (article): 10 Tips for Helping Children with ADHD Stay Organized
ADDitude (podcast): The Organized Student: Set Your ADHD Child Up for Success at School