Q: My child is considered ‘lower functioning’. How can I possibly work on self-regulation?

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A: Grrrrrr, I so dislike it when children are labelled as ‘low’ or ‘high’ functioning. It’s really annoying and can get in the way of finding the best in children.

That aside, let’s look at where you can start.

Making choices is a great place. Your child undoubtedly has preferences for things to eat, drink, play with, etc. Self-regulation is learning to make decisions for yourself. That’s where choices come in.

If you find your child will accept just about anything you offer, let’s give them the option of a preferred thing and a dud. By ‘dud’, I mean something that your child wouldn’t choose at the best of times. Let’s say they’re thirsty, offer them two options – a cup of juice and a sock. The sock is the ‘dud’ – not something they’d choose. Prompt with: “You choose.” Then praise the choice – “Good choice. Now you can drink.”

Remember to put just a wee bit of drink in the cup so they come back for another round.

If that went smoothly, try it a few more times. Give them a break. Then try two more similar options, say juice versus water. Just make sure that one is something they usually like more. Prompt: “You choose. Which one do you want?” 

Extend making choices to other drinks, food, toys, clothing, places to visit … and so on. Do choices a few times a day. We want to keep choice-making fresh and positive.

The more often you can get your child to choose, the more self-regulation they’re learning. They’re making decisions on their own …. and you’re listening. 

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