Effective Practice Guides

Emotional and Behavioral Self-Regulation: Do


Try the following practices with infants and toddlers and preschool-aged children. Find out how home visitors can put these practices to work with families.

Infants and Toddlers1

  • Identify, acknowledge, and support self-soothing behaviors (e.g., "Would you like to hold your blanket? That always seems to make you feel calmer.").
  • Anticipate infants' needs and respond as soon as you can. Describe the child's feelings, what you are doing, and what will happen next in a soothing (e.g., "Are you hungry? After I put Jamal in his crib, I'll get your bottle ready. Then we'll sit together in the rocking chair while you drink.").
  • Prepare toddlers for transitions between activities by giving a five-minute warning and letting them know what will happen next (e.g., that it will soon be time to clean up).
  • Give toddlers simple choices like, "You may have apple slices or orange." Make sure the choices you offer are ones that are acceptable no matter which one the child chooses.
  • Allow children time to work through their emotions with your help. Give them words to express their feelings (e.g., "You don't like when mommy leaves. You cry because you're sad to see her go. Mommy will be back Then you'll smile and be happy.").
  • Comment on toddlers' attempts to handle a challenging situation (e.g., "I know how much you were looking forward to playing outside today. But when you saw it was raining, you and Nico played with puzzles instead. What a great thing to do on a rainy day!").


  • Redirect challenging behavior by using different strategies, such as verbal reminders to suggest an alternative; physical cues (e.g., placing a hand on the shoulder of a child who’s about to hit or grab a toy); visual cues (e.g., pointing to a rule on a chart); or calling attention to a child’s who's doing what’s expected.
  • Help children identify when they're tense and stressed, or relaxed and calm. Name those feelings when you see them.
  • Introduce the idea of taking three deep breaths as a calming technique. Children can use the mantra "smell the flowers" (inhale) and "blow out the candles" (exhale). Teach and practice when children are calm, and coach them when they're upset.
  • Set three to five rules that are simple and positively worded (e.g., "Hands to self; safe feet; eyes are watching; ears are listening; I try new things.").
  • Use pictures or photos to illustrate the rules.
  • Model what following the rules looks like. Acknowledge when children follow the rules (e.g., "Zenobia is sitting on the rug. She looks like she is ready for story time.").
  • Label shelves, bins, and containers with pictures and words so children know where to store toys and materials. Show children how to use and store them appropriately.

Home Visitors

Home visitors can support parents in identifying, adapting, and trying the practices above during home visits and group socializations. Here are more ideas.5,6

  • Strategize with parents to find ways to maintain a calm attitude and presence when their child is upset.
  • Help parents establish daily routines and realistic expectations for their children's behavior.
  • Suggest ways to provide children choices that also fit within the family's values and beliefs about following rules and routines.
  • Model ways in which young children can express their feelings and emotions effectively and appropriately. For example:
    • "You can say 'I'm mad' or 'I don't like that.' "
    • "You can scribble on paper when you're angry."

1Early Head Start National Resource Center, News You Can Use: Approaches Toward Learning—Foundations of School Readiness, Part 1 (Washington, DC: HHS, ACF, OHS, EHS NRC, 2012), https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/school-readiness/article/news-you-can-use-approaches-toward-learning-part-1-foundations-school.

2National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning (NCQTL), Redirecting Behavior (Washington, DC: HHS, ACF, OHS, NCQTL, 2014), https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/video/redirecting-behavior.

3National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning, Teacher Time: Help Me Calm Down! Teaching Children How to Cope with their Big Emotions (video transcript), (Washington, DC: HHS, ACF, OHS, NCQTL, 1/17/2014), https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/video/help-me-calm-down-teaching-children-how-cope-their-big-emotions.

4National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning, Creating Classroom Rules (Washington, DC: HHS, ACF, OHS, NCQTL, 2014), https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/video/creating-classroom-rules.

5Early Head Start National Resource Center (EHS NRC), OpenDoors Home Visitor's Handbook (Washington, DC: HHS, ACF, OHS, EHS NRC, 2014), Chapter 10.1, Approaches toward Learning, How To.

6Education Development Center, Home Visitors Skill Profile (Washington, DC: DHHS, ACF, OHS, n.d.), 4, https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/pdf/home-visitor.pdf.

Topic:School Readiness

Resource Type: Article

Last Updated: June 5, 2018