What Is Self-Regulation?

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You probably already know what self-regulation is, even if you’re not aware of the term. Self-regulation refers to the ability to control your behavior and manage your thoughts and emotions in appropriate ways. It’s why you go to school or work even though you don’t always feel like it, or why you don’t eat pizza for every meal.

Read on to learn more about what self-regulation is and how to strengthen this important skill.

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What Is Self-Regulation?

Self-regulation involves being aware of your behavior and how it can help you reach your goals. The American Psychological Association (APA) defines self-regulation as “the control of one’s behavior through self-monitoring, self-evaluation, and self-reinforcement.” People with good self-regulation skills are able to assess whether their behavior is appropriate and can redirect themselves as needed.

Self-Regulation vs. Self-Control

While self-regulation may sound a lot like self-control, the two are defined differently. Self-control is all about controlling and inhibiting impulses. Self-regulation, meanwhile, is a broader term that refers to the many ways people steer their behavior in order to achieve particular goals.

Why Self-Regulation Is Important

Self-regulation helps us handle stress and conflict while strengthening our relationships and overall well-being.


Children often have the impulse to lash out physically when they're angry or upset—and sometimes adults do, too. Self-regulation helps us control those impulses and act in more appropriate ways. And being able to calm back down has physical effects, like slowing a pounding heart.


If a person is upset, sad, angry, or excited, self-regulation helps them calm down, regulate their feelings, and then behave in acceptable and productive ways. It also helps control emotions so that they are not overwhelming.


Self-regulation is necessary in order to learn and perform, in school or on the job. It helps people sit still at a desk, listen to what needs to be done, and refocus after completing a task.


Self-regulation allows people to behave in socially acceptable ways and build relationships by not letting strong emotions or impulses dictate their behavior.

Examples of Self-Regulation

At its most basic level, self-regulation is being able to manage your emotions and behaviors in order to function appropriately in everyday life. Examples of self-regulation include:

  • Being able to handle intense emotions like frustration, disappointment, or embarrassment
  • Being able to calm down after something exciting has happened
  • Refocusing attention after finishing one task and starting another
  • Controlling impulses
  • Behaving appropriately and getting along with other people

How to Improve Self-Regulation

Like many coping skills, self-regulation can be strengthened and improved if you need to work on it. What works for one person may not work for another, so feel free to try different approaches.


Self-awareness is being aware of one’s own emotions, behaviors, and thoughts. Being self-aware will help you understand why you're motivated to respond a certain way and can help you act more appropriately.


Mindfulness is a way of thinking that involves staying in the present moment and being aware of your environment, your thoughts, and how your body feels. Practicing mindfulness supports self-regulation by encouraging you to slow down and behave in a more conscious way.

Stress Management

Chronic stress can cause mood swings and difficulty concentrating which in turn can interfere with your ability to self-regulate. You can help get stress under control by using stress management techniques like deep breathing, meditation, exercise, and getting enough sleep.


Self-regulation is an essential skill for physical, social, emotional, and mental well-being. It doesn’t always come easily to people, but techniques like mindfulness practices and stress reduction can help you develop and strengthen your self-regulation abilities.

A Word From Verywell

Poor self-regulation can impact your life in detrimental ways, potentially causing problems at work or school and keeping you from developing healthy relationships. If you find yourself struggling with self-regulation, you may find it helpful to talk to a psychotherapist. They can help you develop coping skills and tools that are specific to your needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • At what age does self-regulation begin?

    Self-regulation typically begins between three and seven. This is when children start to shift from reactive behaviors to self-regulated behaviors.

  • What causes poor self-regulation?

    For children, being sick, tired, or experiencing changes to their routine can all disrupt self-regulation. Neurodevelopmental disorders like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or learning disabilities can also cause difficulties with self-regulation. In adults, chronic stress can interfere with self-regulation.

  • How can adults learn to self-regulate?

    Practicing mindfulness and self-awareness are good first steps. Once you learn to slow down and assess how you are feeling, you can decide to respond in a more conscious way and change your behavior if necessary, thus self-regulating. If you find it difficult, talk with your healthcare provider about finding a therapist who can help.



9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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