BrainSTARS: Self-Regulation

Jeanne E. Dise-Lewis, PhD, Margaret Lohr Calvery, PhD, and Hal C. Lewis, PhD, BrainSTARS
BrainSTARS: Self-Regulation

He should always be supervised, unless in a setting that is structured and in which he has consistently behaved well in the past. Remember that disruptive behavior is always more likely when a child is tired or in a situation that is stimulating, unstructured, or confusing.

Use everyday activities:

  1. Label the emotion you think your child is feeling.  For example, “Sometimes recess feels scary: there is so much going on at once,” or “Math makes you angry; it’s hard for you.”

Change the environment:

  1. Describe the behavior you want to see, rather than instructing your child to stop the behavior you don’t want. Instead of telling him not to grab or not to run down the hall, tell him to keep his hands in his lap or tell him to walk down the hall. Reinforce your instructions with a short, catchy phrase (“Hands in your lap;”  “Walking, walking”). Rehearse the phrase over and over while you are doing the behavior with him.
  2. Instead of punishing a behavior, find a way to make it more appropriate. For example, if your child bites others, allow him to bite on a hard rubber chew toy.  If your child runs away from you in the parking lot or playground, take him to a jogging path or track twice a day.
  3. Make a list of things your child can do to help calm himself.  Provide a special object your child can use  as a  “security blanket.”  When he is upset, cue him to hold or touch the item. The special object will remind your child of the good behaviors you and he have practiced together.
  4. If your child hits, pushes, or grabs at other people, try not to respond dramatically. Instead, tell your child what he should do with his hands.

Teach new skills:

  1. Traditional punishments and logical rationales are unlikely to be effective. When self-regulation problems occur, take your child to a quiet place and instruct him to do something calming (close your eyes, breathe deep for three counts; “blow out” your feelings, squeeze your hands). Praise him for being calm and in control.
  2. Make a list of acceptable behaviors and practice them. When you’re mad, you can…
  • stamp your feet,
  • rip up newspaper,
  • punch your pillow,
  • slam the door,
  • pitch a ball against  the garage.

Remember to give alternatives that allow for physical release which you can tolerate. Limit them to five-minute time periods. Use a timer.

Posted on BrainLine December 20, 2012.

From BrainSTARS, Brain Injury: Strategies for Teams And Re-education for Students, © 2002 Jeanne Dise-Lewis, PhD. Used with permission. The manual is available in English and Spanish. For more information or to order copies, call 720.777.5470 or A short video on how to use the BrainSTARS manual is available at