Self-regulation is one of the key skills we can teach kids for the betterment of their emotional development.
Emotional self-regulation is the ability to control one’s behavior and emotional reactions in a manner that is not destructive or socially acceptable.
And usually, young kids and (even many adults) lack the skills to emotionally regulate themselves when needed.
It can be blamed on their brain development, as the prefrontal cortex which plays an important role in impulse control, managing emotional reactions, planning, and predicting the consequences of one’s actions, does not fully develop until they turn 25.
But the limbic brain, which controls the basic emotions and drives, develops earlier than the prefrontal cortex.
To develop good emotional regulation skills, the limbic system and prefrontal cortex should work together so that we can pause and control before reacting, and thinking about the situation and consequences.
Even though the prefrontal cortex only develops later, children can still practice self-control skills and get better at regulating emotions.
Studies show that kids can have significant emotional regulation skills by the time they reach the age of 8 or 9.
And it of course depends on the sensitivity and temperament of each child. And also on how much they have learned about emotional regulation.
And games are a good way to develop patience and emotional regulation skills in a child.
WHY ARE GAMES GOOD FOR TEACHING EMOTIONAL REGULATION?
Playing games help kids in many ways. It helps to build many skills like waiting patiently, taking turns, dealing with loss, language skills, getting along with people, and conflict resolution and through all these, they learn emotional regulation too.
So let’s see what are some games we can play as a family and between kids that will teach self-regulation in kids.
1. MY FEELINGS GAME
This is a game designed to help kids explore various emotions and talk openly about them.
This is a board game and as you move around the board, you recognize different faces with different emotions.
And then the player has to identify those emotions and talk about them and this opens the way for discussion about their own feelings and ways they can handle those emotions.
This gives parents insight into how their children feel and talk to them about various self-regulatory techniques.
This game is amazing to have open conversations with your child about various emotions and also discover stories about them that you never heard.
2. SIMON SAYS
Simon Says is a game suitable for kids aged 3+.
In this game, one person is chosen as Simon, the leader.
The other children gather around Simon, and Simon gives instructions by saying,
Simon says “Do jumping jacks”,
Simon says, “Touch your head”, etc.
The rule is to perform the action that the leader says after saying “Simon says”.
And the aim of the leader should be to make others perform an action saying without saying “Simon says”.
That is if the leader says “Touch your ears”, without saying “Simon says” and if anyone does it, he or she is out of the game. Then the last person standing becomes the new Simon.
This helps kids to develop self-regulation as they have to carefully follow directions and follow them.
Here is a helpful list of 50+ ideas for Simon says.
3. FREEZE DANCE
Freeze dance is another game that works in controlling kids’ emotions.
To play this game, one person should be in charge of turning the music on and off as they like.
And when he/she turns the music on, everyone must dance.
As soon as the music goes off, everyone must stop dancing and hold still until the music starts playing again.
Whoever moves when the music is off or stands still when the music is on gets eliminated.
The winner is the last person dancing.
4. DUCK DUCK GOOSE
This game is a great way to teach kids self-regulation skills because it makes them take turns and wait their turn. The kids have to restrain themselves and sit still, until it’s their turn to become the ‘goose’.
It also teaches them how to deal with frustration if they are not the one who gets to go next.
Here is how to play the game:
Let 4 or more kids play the game. Make them sit in a circle.
Next, choose the person who will be ‘it’.
‘it’ has to walk around the outside of the circle tapping the head of each player, saying ‘duck’.
After tapping on a few players’ head saying ‘duck’, ‘it’ can now say ‘goose’ on someone’s head (‘it’ gets to choose who).
The person who is chosen as goose should get up immediately and chase ‘it’. ‘it’ should be able to run around and sit in their original place in the circle without getting caught.
If ‘it’ succeeds in that, goose now becomes the new ‘it’.
The new person now goes around saying ‘duck’ and choose the next ‘goose’.
The game continues like that.
If ‘it’ fails to get back to their seat without getting tagged, he/she should continue to walk around the circle to choose another player to become the next goose.
5. MIRROR MIRROR
Mirror Mirror is a game in which players imitate what the leader does. It is a self-regulation game for kids which can teach them to control their emotions and to be more social.
The game starts with the leader showing an emotion or other actions like smiling or frowning, raising hands, etc. and then the other players imitate their actions and expressions.
Kids have to look carefully at the expressions and bodily movements of their leader in this game. They also learn to wait patiently and take turns, which helps in developing their emotional regulatory skills.
Here is a video of two kids doing the mirror activity.
6. HEDBANZ GAME
Hedbanz is a game that involves guessing the card on your head. The game can be played with two or more players.
The aim of the game is to guess what you are wearing on your head, by asking yes or no questions. The first player to guess correctly wins the game.
This game helps in emotional regulation because kids have to wait to keep guessing the answers and also other participants need to control the urge to say the right answer.
7. EMOTIONAL CHARADES
The game is played by one person acting out an emotion and the other players guessing what emotion they are feeling. The player who guesses correctly gets to act out another emotion.
This game helps kids to identify different emotions and read emotions of other people, which is a step they need to master for better emotional regulation skills.
8. TABOO GAME
The Taboo Game is played with two or more players, who take turns trying to get their partners to guess the word on the card without saying any of the words on the card.
The best way to play this game is by taking turns and playing in rounds, where one person chooses a word from the list and then each player has one turn to try and get their partner to guess it.
Playing this helps to improve self-regulation skills in kids because kids have to restrain themselves from yelling the right word and the person who has to say the word should be patient and maintain their calmness to find answers.
Jenga is a game that has been around for decades. In this game, players take turns removing one block from a tower and placing it on the top of the tower. The object of the game is to be the last player to successfully remove a block without causing the tower to collapse.
Jenga is an excellent way to improve hand-eye coordination and spatial reasoning skills. It also helps players develop their problem-solving skills by trying to figure out which blocks can be removed without toppling over the entire structure.
It teaches them important social skills like patience and persistence that will help them throughout their lives.
It is a game of balancing. Kids learn to deal with the frustration of losing, and learn good sportsmanship.
10. SELF-CONTROL BUBBLES GAME
Blow some bubbles. For the first round, let kids play with the bubbles, popping them, chasing them, or blowing them.
And for the second round, they are not allowed to touch the bubbles or chase them. They are to use their emotional regulatory skills to restrain themselves from playing with the bubbles.
This is an emotional regulation game suitable especially for small kids starting from toddlers.
11. MUSICAL CHAIRS
A game that has been played for generations now. Musical chairs let kids develop focus – as they have to listen carefully to know when the music stops.
It also helps kids deal with the frustration of losing as they have to control their emotions there and display good sportsman spirits.
12. RED LIGHT, GREEN LIGHT
The Red light, Green light game is played by two or more players. The objective of the game is to be the first player to reach the finish line without being tagged by the other players.
The game starts with one player designated as the “traffic cop” and all other players lined up at the starting point.
Traffic cop stands at one end of a playing field and turns his back to the other players. The other players are lined up at the opposite end of the playing field, facing the cop.
When the cop yells “green light”, all of the other players should start running towards him. The cop should still be facing away from the players when he says green light.
After a few seconds, after all the players start running, now the cop turns to his front, faces the players and yells “red light”.
When he says “red light”, all of the players must stop where they are.
If any child is seen moving, he or she must return to the starting line.
Children can start moving again when the command “green light” is given again. The cop should always turn away from the players to yell “green light” and face the players to yell “red light”.
The line where the traffic cop stands is the finishing line. And the first one to reach where he stands is the winner.
The Red light, Green light game helps in self-management and emotional control. They have to listen well and follow instructions in this game.
In order to help them develop more emotional regulation skills, you can add variations to games by adding rules like yellow light means go slow, or blue light for hopping, etc.
This will promote stopping to think and then acting, as it is a crucial skill in self-regulation – thinking before acting.
13. MOTHER, MAY I?
Mother, May I? is an old game in which one person is chosen as the mother. And the other members are the “children”.
This game is also called “Captain, may I?” and then the other members would be “crew members”.
First, the mother should stand away from the kids, keeping a certain distance in between so that the kids can perform the movement activities. Make the kids stand in a line, shoulder to shoulder.
The mother then calls on each child ( randomly or in order) and the chosen ones ask a question to the mother. The question must start with the phrase “Mother may I _____________?”
Each child can ask any questions suggesting any movement like “Mother, may I hop 3 times?” or “Mother, may I take walk four steps”, etc?
Mother can respond by saying yes or no. If she says no, she can offer other suggestions like “jump like a frog 3 times, instead”, etc.
It’s up to the mother to decide what activity the children perform.
And the mother may answer yes or no. Mother is the finishing line. The first person to reach the finishing line wins and is chosen as the next mother.
And if a child forgets to add “Mother, may I” before the question he or she should return to the starting line.
You can add different variations to the game by adding a variety of movements, including backward movements.
The benefit of “Mother, may I?” in self-regulation is that kids need to stick to the rules by obeying what the mother says. This is a practice of restraining themselves.
If the mother says no, they learn to deal with the frustration and disappointment and continue to play a fair game.
It teaches them to stay on task despite feeling all the negative overwhelming emotions.
Here is a detailed guide on how to play this game.
14. CLAP GAMES
There are many clap games that can be played with kids. Clap games help to teach many skills to kids like listening, focus, coordination, sequencing, etc. along with self-regulation.
Self-regulation skills are developed when they play clap games because they play with partners, learn to deal with frustration when they or their partners make mistakes, and also as they learn to clap hands in a particular sequence or rhythm. These factors help to develop self-control.
Clap games also help to develop patience and perseverance, as they work on their own rhythm and those of the kids playing with them.
Here is a post on 10 clapping games for kids from Empowered Parents.
15. RELAY RACES
Playing relay races is a great way to get kids active and have fun. It also helps them develop skills such as teamwork, communication, and leadership.
The benefits of playing relay races for kids are:
- Teamwork: Playing relay races teaches children how to work together in a team. They have to deal with each other’s mistakes or frustrations and play. This teaches a lot of self-regulation skills.
- Communication: Playing relay races teaches children how to communicate with each other in order to win the race.
- Leadership: Playing relay races teaches children how to lead their team members and make decisions on the fly.
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