Fun Family Games to Promote Self-Regulation Skills

Updated: Apr 8

What is self-regulation and why is it important for our kids to learn this skill?

Self-regulation is the ability to identify and manage your energy level, emotional state, and behavior in ways that are appropriate and positive. Simply stated, self-regulation refers to the ability to identify your mood and make adjustments allowing you to act and engage appropriately for the situation you are in. This foundational skill must be in place to allow a person or child to be successful in any activity at home, school, or in the community.

Self-regulation has overarching effects on a child’s ability to tolerate unmet wants or needs, handle disappointments and failures, and work towards success. Children who struggle with self-regulation may demonstrate some of the following behaviors: act overly silly or “out of control”, have tantrums or meltdowns, struggle with transitions between activities, have difficulty waiting or taking turns, struggle with being in close proximity to others, move too quickly or with too much force, or talk too loudly and stand too close.

As a parent, you can promote self-regulation in many ways but one of the best ways for children to learn is through play. Here are some ideas of simple, fun games you can play with your family to help your children learn different components of self-regulation:

Red Light/Green Light

  • For this game, one person acts as the traffic cop. Everyone else acts as a car and lines up at a starting line. The traffic cop calls out “red light” or “green” light. When “green” light is called out, the traffic cop turns his back to the cars, and everyone runs or walks forward. When “red” light is called, the traffic cop turns around and everyone stops. This continues until someone crosses the designated finish line. The first person to do this becomes the new traffic cop.

  • Components of self-regulation: focus, listening, body awareness/control of your body, and the ability to inhibit impulses. You can talk with your child to help them make a connection between being able to control their bodies in the game and in real life.

The Dance and Freeze Game

  • For this game, play music for your family to dance along with. When the music tempo is fast, everyone dances fast. When the music tempo is slow, everyone dances slow. When the music stops, everyone freezes in position and holds it until the music begins to play again.

  • Components of self-regulation: listening, body awareness/control of your body, and inhibiting impulses. You can talk with your child about how different situations might require different levels of energy just like different types of music require different body movements.

Partner Relay

  • For this game, create a pathway or an obstacle course. The pathway could be as simple as a straight line down a hallway or as complicated as climbing over cushions and going downstairs. Next, you will pair your children up and assign them an object and two body parts. You will instruct them to follow the pathway or obstacle course while carrying the object between the two body parts. You can use any objects around your home (i.e. pencil, pillow, toy, book, etc.) The body parts could be any of the following: elbow to elbow, shoulder to shoulder, finger to finger, palm to palm, back to back, cheek to cheek, etc.

  • Components of self-regulation: listening (to their partner), body awareness/control of your body (determining how hard or soft to press against their partner), emotional control (while working their partner), problem-solving (navigating the pathway with their partner).

Bursting Bubbles

  • For this game, have your family sit in a circle outside. Tell them you will be blowing bubbles into the circle and they should try to pop as many bubbles as they can while staying seated. After they have popped all the bubbles, give them the directions that you will be blowing bubbles again but this time they should try very hard not to pop any bubbles. Offer praise and encouragement when they show restraint and self-control.

  • Components of self-regulation: body awareness/control of your body (to avoid moving and popping a bubble) and inhibiting impulses. You can explain the concept of self-control through this activity and discuss other times (outside of fun and games) when self-control might be important.

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Serena Dewey is an occupational therapist, was born and raised in western Washington but has lived throughout the northwest. She completed her bachelor's degree at Walla Walla University in Speech Communication and then completed her master's degree in Occupational Therapy at Eastern Washington University. While at Eastern Washington University, Serena participated in community-based volunteer opportunities including the organization of a Halloween costume design and trick-or-treating event for children with mobility limitations. Serena also enjoyed partnering with children and their families during a constraint-induced movement therapy camp offered at Eastern Washington University. She has experience working in a variety of settings including inpatient rehabilitation, mental health, pediatrics, early intervention pediatrics, and telehealth.

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