Q: What things can I do during holidays to help my child practice self-regulation?

A: Emily Jupiter wrote an excellent article in the ASHA Leader magazine (1) on this topic. Here are some of her suggestions along with a few of my own:

For preschoolers: 

Play games like Red Light/Green Light, Freeze Dance, and Simon Says. These help inhibitory control, working memory, self-monitoring, and cognitive flexibility. 

Practice yoga and Turtle Breathing. These help children learn how it feels to be calm. 

Planning adventures and excursions. Planning helps children learn about planning and setting priorities. It also helps them with inhibitory control, working memory, self-monitoring and cognitive flexibility.

For school-aged children:

Plan a party or get-together. Brainstorming helps with cognitive flexibility. Then the planning help with organization, working memory, and inhibitory control. Self-monitoring will be important as you review the plan as the even gets closer – how are we doing?

Play games like Rush Hour, Uno, Rat-a-tat-Cat. Mazes and “Rush Hour”. These help with planning, inhibitory control, working memory, cognitive flexibility, and self-monitoring. 

Make sure whatever you do it’s fun.  


Jupiter, E. (2017). Put the Fun Into Executive-Function Skills Practice This Summer. ASHA Leader. 

Resources on the internet

There are lots of amazing resources available on the internet. Here are a few sites for games and activities that can be used to teach self-regulation.

Games

http://preschoolexpress.com/game_station.shtml

http://www.gameskidsplay.net/

http://www.topics-mag.com/edition11/games-section.htm

http://www.estcomp.ro/~cfg/games.html

Here’s a list of 30 classic children’s games from WIRED magazine. And here are more from Wikipedia.

Crafts and activities

Crafts involving cartoon and animé characters: http://www.dltk-kids.com/crafts/cartoons/zoo.html

Recipes with step-by-step pictures: http://www.kids-cooking-activities.com/

Lego with step-by-step pictures (have to enter keyword describing the object or the number of the set): http://service.lego.com/en-us/buildinginstructions

Fun paper airplanes: http://www.funpaperairplanes.com/

What’s Simon Says got to do with self-regulation?

I recommend using action songs of all sorts to teach self-regulation.

Learning to stop, start and change movements to music and songs is a lot of fun. Not only that, it’s a great way for them to learn how to manage their behavior, thinking and emotions. Bonus! That also leads to greater success in school.


All of this from playing Simon Says? Well, not completely but action songs are a fun way to start. When you play Simon Says (here are step-by-step instructions), children have to pay attention, listen carefully for the words “Simon says” before doing the action. Add in distractions and excitement and you have a great way to firm up your self-regulation skills.

Change how slowly or how quickly you sing each song or play each game. Change your voice to loud or soft or your ‘everyday voice’. Clap, stomp, jump or move quickly, softly, hard … any variation that helps children control their bodies. I’ve had a lot of fun when I asked the children to decide how they want to vary each song or chorus. Give them a chance to be leader and see if your self-regulation skills are up to snuff.

Any songs and games where you have to start and stop (that is regulate your attention and body) are excellent ways to work on self-regulation. Just make sure to stop while it’s still fun.

Here are some resources to help you get started:

For preschoolers and early elementary-age (Primary through Year 2) children

Nicky’s Nursery Rhymes: http://www.nurseryrhymes4u.com/NURSERY_RHYMES/

Early Years Experiences Songs and Rhymes – Action Songs http://www.bigeyedowl.co.uk/show_songs.php?t=3

Mama Lisa’s World International Music and Culture Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes http://www.mamalisa.com/?t=heh

Kiddles Kids’ Songs Complete List http://www.kididdles.com/lyrics/allsongs.html

Elementary School Music Early Childhood Songs and Rhymes

http://brooklynmusic.wordpress.com/2009/11/18/early-childhood-songs-and-rhymes/

Action songs http://www.songsforteaching.com/movement.htm

Action songs http://kidsmusictown.com/childrenssongslyrics/actionparticipationmovement/

Action songs: http://preschoolexpress.com/music_station.shtml

Action songs http://www.kididdles.com/lyrics/busy.html

Clapping games, songs, and rhymes http://funclapping.com/about/

Songs and rhymes for older children

Scout Songs http://www.scoutorama.com/song/

Action Camp Songs http://www.my-favorite-camping-store.com/action-camp-songs.html

Dragon’s Campfire Songbook http://dragon.sleepdeprived.ca/songbook/songbook_index.htm

Songs, Nursery Rhymes and Lyrics http://www.educationdx.com/songs-nursery-rhymes-and-lyrics-elementary-school.html

lntimate Campfire Resource: http://www.ultimatecampresource.com/site/camp-activities/songs-with-motions.page-1.html

Which children need help with self-regulation?

It’s not just children with autism or other conditions who need help with self-regulation. Every child could use a little help but some need more. Most children will need help at different stages in life. Self-regulation doesn’t just happen for many children.

As we talked about in February 2018, learning self-regulation takes a long time. Developing and refining self-regulation takes at least the first two decades of life. And, each of the five key executive functions develops at different paces; some maturing earlier, some later.

So who needs help?

Do you find that you have to remind your child over and over and over to:

  • Put his things away (like his jacket or toys)
  • Calm down
  • Slow down
  • Use a quiet voice or speak a little louder
  • Listen carefully
  • Not hit or push other children
  • Do something on his own from beginning to end (like homework or chores)

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, your child could benefit from working on self-regulation.

Often we get used to patterns of behavior and don’t really notice if a child is different from others his age.

The Executive Function Survey will help you summarize your day-to-day experience and let you look at some of these patterns. Go ahead and complete the survey. Once you’ve finished answering all the items, add up each column from pages one and two. There are a total of 25 items but, even if your child does three or more things ‘very frequently’ or ‘always’, you should start working on your child’s self-regulation.

I’ve had parents say, “Oh, he’s just a busy boy.” and pass off the behaviors as just being a kid. That’s not really helping him. We all know what can happen if we just wait and see.

Start now and don’t wait for failure or bad experiences.

Know each child before starting spark*/spark*EL

The more you know and understand about each child, the better your work on self-regulation will be.

Find out about brothers and sisters and other family members. Who could be a self-regulation partner?

Find out about other therapies children are involved in. The average child with autism in the United States gets seven different therapies (1) – if that sounds like a lot, one child in the survey was receiving 52 different therapies!!! You need to know other therapies going on – What’s being asked of the children? Are there things that could make it more difficult for the children to become more independent? What  therapies do they like or dislike? What therapies made a difference and which ones didn’t seem to work? It’s all important for understanding what’s being asked of the children, how busy their schedules are, and what seems to work.

Make sure you know the children’s interests and things they dislike. Bring in their passions and affinities – they’ll keep them interested. Find out what they prefer in terms of videos or movies, games, TV shows, computer programs, books, toys, characters from videos, TV, games and/or books and music. Also, be sure to avoid things they don’t like – that can really turn them off (“yuck, My Little Ponies are stupid!”).

Be aware of each child’s strengths and areas of difficulty. Find out about children’s reading, fine motor and gross motor skills (2). I’ve seen too many speech-language therapists use coloring activities with children who have fine motor problems. The poor kids understandably hated coloring because it was too difficult to control that darned crayon/color. Problems with motor skills are common in children with autism (2).

Here’s a form I developed for spark* and spark*EL that you can use to gather information.


(1) Green, V.A., Pituch, K.A., Itchon, J., Choi, A., O’Reilly, M., & Sigafoos, J. (2006). Internet survey of treatments used by parents of children with autism. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 27(1), 70-84.

(2) Problems with motor skills are common in children with autism

(3). More than half have low muscle tone and about 9% have large muscle (gross motor) delays where the child looks clumsy. More than one-third have motor dyspraxia, or difficulty planning, coordinating, producing and reproducing actions and movements with their bodies. Children can have problems imitating gestures (such as waving or making thumbs up) and actions, using tools (such as pencils, scissors, toothbrushes).

(3) Ming, X., Brimacombe, M., & Wagner, G. C. (2007). Prevalence of motor impairment in autism spectrum disorders. Brain & development, 29(9), 565–70.

How much is too much?

In the very first spark* News (December 2017) I mentioned I was criticized for having a child doing handsprings on the cover of spark* and spark*EL. The criticism came from a parent of two children (now young adults) with autism. She said she didn’t want her children doing handsprings. I, in my sometimes less-than-tactful manner, said that I want kids on the spectrum to have times when they can let loose. I want them to know there are times when they can feel the joy of standing on their heads, kicking up their feet, yelling at the top of their lungs, flicking pieces of string, flapping their hands and fingers. Those are exciting and really enjoyable. Why would we want to squelch them?? Talk about joyless childhoods! 

Self-regulation is a limited thing. Your ‘self-regulation’ battery can keep going and but it will run out. Children just learning to self-regulate will find it even more draining. After working on self-regulation, children will mentally and physically tired. Their ability to self-regulate will drop off. They’ll develop the ‘grouchies’ and become more distractible. Researchers find this in everyone, not just children with autism.

So what can you do?

First of all, make sure the child C.A.N. self-regulate. We’ve talked in previous editions of spark* News about making sure children are Calm (the “C” in C.A.N.), Alert (the “A” in C.A.N) and nourished. Do a few moments of Turtle Breathing before you start. Make sure you’re asking children to practice self-regulation only when they’re well-rested and feeling okay. If they didn’t sleep well the night before or aren’t feeling well, you should either forget practicing self-regulation or do an activity that was successful before. Children’s brains and bodies need well-balanced diets to function (check the June 2018 spark* News for more information). So … this means you need to check if children C.A.N. self-regulate before starting. Teach children to check for themselves – “Am I calm? Is my brain alert and ready to work? Did I eat some good food?” Make a checklist for the children, like the one below, so they can check for themselves.

Second, use activities that include their areas of high interest. That can be computers, flags, clocks, maps, Thomas the Tank Engine … you name it. It’ll make practice more fun and enjoyable and they won’t fatigue as quickly. 

Third, don’t practice too long. I recommend working on new things for no more than two minutes for every year of the child’s age. That means, a two year old should practice no more than four minutes. And an eight year old should practice for no more than 16 minutes. You want to stop when children are still keen to do more. You can practice for longer periods once the children become stronger self-regulators. That is, their ‘self-regulation batteries’ expand their power limits.

Fourth, give every child times and places when they don’t have to self-regulate. They need to just be themselves and let loose. Select places where children can be un-regulated – the backyard/garden, the playground, bedroom, whatever works. Also, choose times when it’s okay. Post the rules so children know when they can release the brakes and do handsprings if they want.

Letting go

Yes, that’s what we have to do with children learning self-regulation. We have to allow them time and space to become more independent.

Our ultimate goal in teaching self-regulation is for children to make choices for themselves. They need to develop a sense of freedom. This means they become more autonomous …. and they don’t need us so much.

How do you go from hovering so disasters don’t occur to giving children space to become more independent? How do you stop acting as children’s frontal lobes?

First of all, we have to teach them how and when to regulate their bodies, thinking and emotions. They need help to become aware of their ability to self-regulate, of when and where they need to use these skills, of how to be more resilient and how to advocate for themselves. We don’t just throw them into a situation and hope they can swim!!

Find the balance between your actions and your words. Stay calm (calm adult = calm children) and show confidence in the children’s ability.

The words we use are critical. Even if you’re not sure the children understand everything, at the very least they’ll understand your tone of voice. When working with children with autism, we become used to telling/ordering them what to do. We also help them a lot – doing things for them. These are ‘doing-to’ and ‘doing-for’ approaches that ultimately keep children dependent on the adults around them.

There’s a time and place for telling children what to do (like, “Stay away from that dog!”). Some ‘doing-for’ things are steps in the right direction. For example, when we set up visual schedules and streamline the environment, it’s clearer to children what they’re expected to do. Over time, we want them to organize themselves and cope with some uncertainty.

We need to move to ‘doing with’ the children. That means becoming a learning partner. It’s not easy to do. You have to be willing to wait, watch patiently, and let the children make mistakes. You have to focus on the end-goal: we want children to do-it-yourself. We want the children to plan and organize on their own, inhibit unhelpful behaviors, remember what they plan to do, check their own progress, and change approaches if need be.

That’s huge! But here are some beginning steps:

  1. Sit back and pretend you’re in the passenger’s seat and the child is the driver. Trust yourself and trust the child. 
  2. Use inclusive language. Use “we”. It’s a simple but powerful way to tell children you’re in this together and you’ll be there to support them if needed. 
  3. Ask rather than tell. Use words like “How about …?”, “What do you think if we do it this way?”, “What’ll happen if we do it this way?” when making suggestions. 
  4. Give hints and encouragement. Prompt children to think for themselves and figure things out. Ask them, “Did you notice this thing over here? Do you think that might help you?”, “What do you need to do?” or “What could you do to help yourself?”
  5. Give them choices. Choices can be about what to do, how and/or when or by giving a reason when choice is limited. Choice is powerful. It tells the children they’re important and have some say. Choices can start out really simply. For example, you decide what things need to be done but the child determines the order for completing them. You offer milk and juice and the child selects one. Remember, once children make a choice, you have to respect it … even if it’s not what you had in mind. 
  6. Invite and value their opinions. Ask about what they’d like to do, how they’d like to do it, why they don’t want to do it, etc. Listen to their ideas and respond to their suggestions. Acknowledge their outlook even if you disagree.
  7. Think out loud. Explain in simple terms what you’re thinking and the reason you want to do things in certain ways. You may not get your way but the children will learn about other ways of doing things.  

What’s a tummy got to do with self-regulation?

Self-regulation starts with the brain, with executive functions. Brains work 24 hours a day and move into high gear when you’re working on self-regulation. This is especially true when you’re first learning.

So what’s your tummy got to do with it? 

Well, your brain needs fuel to function and that fuel comes from food. Not just any food but good quality foods that have lots of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants (1). A balanced diet includes a variety of foods that contain nutrients necessary for good health …. and for brain function.

We know that up to 90 per cent of children with autism have selective diets (2). That means they have strong preferences for just a few favorite foods. Those favorite foods are usually carbohydrates (sugars and starches) and highly processed snack foods (3, 4, 5, 6). Favorites I’ve seen are goldfish crackers, chips/crisps, dried fruit snacks, and noodles. Those foods don’t fuel brains or bodies very well or for very long.


Food and mood are also linked. That is, the better the food you eat, the better your mood. Children with autism who have selective diets (limiting the amount of protein and fiber they eat) are more likely to have temper tantrums (7). And it’s not just children with autism! Non-autistic boys whose diets are low in vitamins and minerals are more likely to have behavior problems (8). I worked with a lot of children who were selective eaters. You can almost predict their ‘mood crashes’. It seemed that they soared on the sugars they ate and then just fell apart when their ‘fuel’ ran out. Two hours after they ate, they’d become irritable and angry and couldn’t do much of anything.

Watch them carefully and know what they eat. If we expect them to regulate their bodies, thinking and emotions, their brains need lots of good quality ‘fuel’ from food. If we want them to interact positively and consistently, their mood needs food too.

In spark*, I emphasize the importance of fueling the children’s brains when working on self-regulation. Young children trying to regulate their bodies, thinking and emotions should eat nutritious foods every 2 to 2 1/2 hours to keep their fuel levels up. But how do you get them to eat something other than ‘the usual’?

Selective eating in children with autism is related to sensory issues and to their preference for sameness.  Food texture, appearance, taste, smell, and even temperature can figure into food choices (9). I’ve heard of children who’d only eat yellow food or crunchy textures. The way food is presented (such as food packaging, how food is placed on a plate) and eaten (fingers, spoon, fork) can affect whether they’ll eat them (10) – they prefer the same old things. Our children aren’t keen to try anything new.

We know that straight behavioral approaches (like rewarding acceptance of new foods) have limited success (11). They resulted in children eating more food but not a larger variety of foods. Other approaches, like desensitization and reducing sensory issues, haven’t been well-studied so the jury is still out.

There is one approach that is really appealing to children with autism. That’s The Eating Game (stands for Get Awesome Meals Everyday). It’s visual and structured. It makes meals predictable and, best of all, children learn to self-regulate their eating – they know when they’ve had enough and when they need more of certain types of foods. The Eating Game presents a visual plan for each day that shows the number of servings for each major food group. The food groups are color-coded as are pictures of foods within each group – of course, you can add personal favorites. Children match the color of each food option and see when they have the right ‘balance’ of foods. I’ve tried it. Children love it and it helps ensure they get the brain fuel they need.


(1) antioxidants protect your brain from oxidative stress or the “waste” (free radicals) produced when your body uses oxygen. Free radicals can damage brain cells.

(2) Ledford J. & Gast D. (2006). Feeding problems in children with autism spectrum disorders: a review. Focus Autism Other Dev Disabilities. 21, 153-166.

(3) Schmitt, L., Heiss, C. J., & Campdell, E. (2008). A comparison of nutrient intake and eating behaviors of boys with and without autism. Topics in Clinical Nutrition, 23(1), 23–31.

(4) Ahearn, W. H., Castine, T., Nault, K., & Green, G. (2001). An assessment of food acceptance in children with autism or pervasive developmental disorder—Not otherwise specified. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 31, 505–511

(5) Schreck, K.A., Williams, K., Smith, A.F. (2004). A comparison of eating behaviors between children with and without autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 13(4), 433-438.

(6) Williams, K. E., Gibbons, B. G., & Schreck, K. A. (2005). Comparing selective eaters with and without developmental disabilities. Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 17, 299–309.

(7) Dominick, K., Davis, N., Lainhart, J., Tager-Flusberg, H., & Folstein, S. (2007). Atypical behaviors in children with autism and children with a history of language impairment. Res. in Dev. Disabilities, 28, p. 145-162.

(8) Robinson, SL, Marín, C, Oliveros, H., Mora-Plazas, M., Richards, BJ, Lozoff, B., Villamor, E. (2018) Iron Deficiency, Anemia, and Low Vitamin B-12 Serostatus in Middle Childhood Are Associated with Behavior Problems in Adolescent Boys: Results from the Bogotá School Children Cohort, The Journal of Nutrition, 148, 760–770,

(9) Schmitt L, Heiss C, Campbell E. (2008). A comparison of nutrient intake and eating behaviors of boys with and without autism. Top Clinical Nutrition. 23, 23–31.

(10) Williams P.G., Dalrymple N., & Neal, J. (2000). Eating habits of children with autism. Pediatric Nursing. 26, 259–264.

(11) Marshall, H., Ware, R., Ziviani, J., Hill, R., & Dodrill, P. (2015). Efficacy of interventions to improve feeding difficulties in children with autism spectrum disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Child Care, Health & Development, 41, 278-302.

Ways to assess self-regulation

There are a number of ways to evaluate a child’s self-regulation skills. There are a few standardized (see notes below on standardized tests and scales) rating scales, direct standardized assessments, and quite a few non-standardized measures – in the September spark* News we included an informal survey I developed.

The list below isn’t exhaustive but it’ll give you a good start.

Standardized Rating Scales. These questionnaires are used to rate children’s performance and skills. Typically, the teacher or parent rates the accuracy or frequency of each statement about the child. For example, an item may ask how often the child “Acts too wild or out of control” – never, sometimes, frequently.

  • Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function (BRIEF). The BRIEF in its various forms  is designed for children from two to 18 years of age. It has both parent and teacher questionnaires. There’s a self-report version for children from 11 to 18 years of age as well. The results reflect such things as the child’s inhibitory/impulse control, attention, emotional control, initiation of activities, working memory, planning and organizing, organization of materials, and self-monitoring. Find out more here
  • Comprehensive Executive Function Inventory (CEFI). The CEFI is designed for children from five to 18 years of age. It too has parent and teacher questionnaires as well as one for children 12 to 18 years of age. The CEFI identifies strengths and weaknesses in attention, inhibitory/impulse control, planning, emotion regulation, self-monitoring, initiation, flexibility, working memory, and organization.  Read a review here
  • Burks Behavior Rating Scales (BBRS). This measure is for children from four to 18 years of age and has rating scales for both parents and teachers. It looks at a number of behavioral, emotional, and social issues but it also examines impulse control. Find out more here
  • Conners Comprehensive Behavior Rating Scales (CBRS). The CBRS is for children from eight to 18 years of age and has both parent and teacher forms. It looks at a number of different emotional, academic, and behavioral issues as well as executive functioning. Find out more here

Standardized Direct Assessments. These instruments require children to complete activities that tap their executive functions. I’m aware of two standardized direct measures.

  • Minnesota Executive Function Scale. The MEFS is a standardized assessment of executive function skills (specifically focusing on working memory, inhibitory control, and cognitive flexibility) designed for children ages two to seven years of age. It’s a child-friendly assessment that’s administered individually on a touch-screen tablet. The assessment takes an average of four minutes to administer. I (Heather) observed a demonstration of the MEFS and found it very engaging and wonderfully child-friendly. Find out more here 
Minnesota Executive Function Scale
  • NEPSY. This measure, for children from three to 17 years of age, is designed to assess neuropsychological development. The name, NEPSY, is an acronym that was formed from the word neuropsychology, taking NE from neuro and PSY from psychology. It looks at Attention and Executive Functions (planning, cognitive flexibility, inhibitory control, working memory), as well as language, sensorimotor functions, visuospatial processing, memory and learning, and social perception. Find out more here

Non-Standardized Rating Scales. These are rating scales that haven’t been tested on larger numbers of children. They’re at least superficially valid (that is, they focus on executive functions) and can be helpful in looking at areas of need and in checking progress. 
Here’s one I developed for young children:

Here’s one I (Heather) developed for young children.

There are a lot of other informal surveys online. Just Google “executive function survey”

Non-Standardized Direct Measures. There is a growing number of direct non-standardized measures, chiefly used in research but they can be used to check progress.

  • Corsi Blocks Task. This is primarily a visual working memory task for children from seven years of age. It involves imitating a sequence of taps on up to nine identical separate blocks. The sequence starts out simple, usually with two blocks. The task has forward patterns done in the same order as demonstrated and backward patterns where the child must touch the blocks in a reversed order. Try it out here
  • Dimensional Change Card Sort –  This task is similar to the Minnesota Executive Function Scale described above. It assesses working memory, inhibitory control and cognitive flexibility in two to five year old children. After learning to sort the cards according to one dimension (shape or color), children are asked to sort the cards according to the other dimension. For example, the first sort might focus on color, the second sort on shape, and the final sort might be a mix of color and shape depending on whether a card has a border or not. Find out more here
  • Heads Toes Knees Shoulders Test. HTKS looks mainly at inhibitory control but attention, working memory, and cognitive flexibility are also needed to be successful. Children, three to seven years of age, are asked to play a game in which they must do the opposite of what the adult says. Children are instructed to touch their head (or their toes), but the children are supposed to do the opposite and touch their toes. Find out more here  and watch the video below
  • Numerous tests of inhibitory control/impulse control: Tongue Task (children are asked to hold a cracker or M&M/Smartie on his/her tongue and to keep from chewing it for increasing intervals of time); Crayon Delay Task (looks at children’s ability to keep themselves from coloring when left alone with coloring supplies); Gift Delay Task (the child is asked not to peek while the adult wraps a “surprise”, then the wrapped gift is put in front of the child and he’s told not to touch it while the adult leaves “to get a bow”); Whisper Task (children are asked to whisper the name of 12 familiar cartoon characters (e.g., Elmo, Dora the Explorer, Mickey Mouse), inhibiting the urge to shout out the names); Pig-Bull Task (children are told to do what the pig says and ignore what the bull tells them to do); Simon Says (children are told to follow a command only if it’s preceded by the words “Simon says”); See more here

Keep in mind that a standardized survey or test is carefully developed, then tested on a number of people. Developers of these surveys and tests make sure they test what they say it does (that is, it’s valid). The survey/test needs to be consistent – no matter who’s giving the test or how many different children are being tests (that means it’s reliable).

Non-standardized measures aren’t necessarily always valid and reliable. If given at different times by different people, the results may be different. In fact, they may not even be measuring just self-regulation or executive functions. This is not to say you shouldn’t use these test/surveys. They can be used to check a child’s progress, by comparing before and after you began using spark* or spark*EL. Just remember to compare only the results for that child and be aware that different testers may get different results.

5 ways to promote self-regulation everyday

Self-regulation is about making conscious decisions in relation to your executive functions – planning and organizing, controlling your impulses, engaging your memory, self-monitoring, and thinking and acting flexibly.
Here are five things you can do to encourage self-regulation in everyday life.

Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash
  1. Prompt children to plan and organize activities. Start with one or two steps in a familiar activity and then gradually move to more complicated, less familiar things. Start an activity and ask the child, “What do you think we should do next?” No matter what the child says or does, give it a try. If it doesn’t work, that’s a learning opportunity – you can gently guide him into rethinking the approach. When it works, ask him to choose “the next step” and the one after that. This helps children to start thinking ahead and develop more independence.
  2. Teach children they are the masters of their own brains and bodies. I found that when I used ‘self-distancing’, children were more likely to start self-regulating. Self-distancing is a simple but powerful tool – children are prompted to step back from their brains and bodies and tell their brain or body part what to do. I (Heather) teach children to talk to their brains, hands, feet, voices, etc. so “you can help them learn”. By using this simple distancing process, emotions are removed and children become their own teachers. Try it! Telling your brain or body what to do is remarkably powerful.
  3. Model ways to help yourself remember. When you’re trying to remember something, talk out loud about what you’re doing: “Okay, now what was I going to do? That’s right, I’m going to the kitchen to see if we need more milk from the store.” That shows your child a way to ‘remind’ your brain about plans. Another strategy is to visualize: “Let me make a picture in my head. I want to go to the bedroom, get my shoes and then get my jacket  …. It’s like making a movie in my head!”
  4. Make checking progress part of every activity. After you start an activity with your child, stop and say, “Let’s see how we’re doing. Are we following the plan? Does it look like the picture in our heads?” Model how you can stop and change things if the activity isn’t proceeding as you expected. Have your child evaluate the progress too so he can learn to self-monitor on his own.
  5. Change your mind. This is part of learning cognitive flexibility, a sometimes challenging thing. Once you have a plan in place, announce “I’ve changed my mind”, and change one small part. You might change the order of doing things – “I’ve changed my mind, let’s read a book first and then watch the video” or “Let’s put on your shirt and then your socks”. Progress to larger changes – “I’ve changed my mind. How about we go to Safeway/Tesco/Hyper U instead of our usual store today?” Make small changes part of everyday and be sure to reassure your child, “We can change our minds. That’s okay sometimes.” Be sure to let your child make changes too. It’s important to help him take a more flexible approach to life.