Don't you love that phrase "remember on purpose"? What a great way to think of it. Most kids have learned correct behavior, but choosing to remember the 'rules' and act accordingly takes some practice.
Self-regulation can be thought of as having two parts, both cognitive and social-emotional regulation. In reality, self-regulation is a combination of the two. Cognitive self-regulation is the degree to which children can regulate their own behaviors, are reflective, and can plan and think ahead. They have control of their thinking. They plan, they monitor, they evaluate thinking strategies, and they can attend and remember on purpose. It is not to say that children without self-regulation cannot attend or remember at all-some children can remember remarkable things like the names of all dinosaurs if this is what interests them. But when you're trying to teach these children to remember something, such as their phone number, it seems they can't remember a thing. What children need to learn to do is to "remember on purpose," to remember things they must learn and know, and to remember how to act in a given situation.
Social-emotional self-regulation means being able to inhibit and delay gratification. Being able to do this means being able to control emotions. If someone knocks you down, pushes you, you don't erupt into anger. With social-emotional self-regulation, you know when you're talking too loud, when you're irritating other people, or when you need to stop a behavior. Social-emotional regulation also means being able to internalize standards of behavior and apply these standards without being reminded. Children who have social-emotional regulation internalize the rule about not knocking down others' block constructions and walking around these constructions instead of into them.
Inability to self-regulate is the root of most behavioral problems in children. It can predict success in school and social settings throughout childhood, and follow your youngster right into the adult world. Though thee school setting does help kids master this skill, there is so much we as parents could and should be doing to encourage development of their personal self-regulation. I'm going to pull from another fantastic article on the American Psychological Association website, which pulled from various studies to discuss "how physiological reactions may be preprogrammed in a child's brain, but parenting techniques can teach them to manage those responses." The study observed two ways parents helped their children to improve their emotional style:
1. Until their children were about 1 year and a half old, the parents tried to soothe their children when they became distressed by holding them, talking to them and trying to distract their attention from upsetting events.
2. When their children are about 2 years old, the parents began to introduce their children to novel and unfamiliar events?situations that can be stressful to these types of children. They forced their children into uncomfortable circumstances but remain close by as a safe base for their children to return to if their emotions got too difficult to handle.
One researcher is quoted making this conclusion (italics added) :
Contrary to what we thought we'd find, these parents are not overprotective...They walk a fine balance between catering to the child's internal arousal system and providing coping strategies, such as verbal and cognitive strategies and time outs...And they use sensitization by putting them in unfamiliar and novel situations but also providing a safe haven
So lets brainstorm a few of those coping strategies and how we can teach them to our children.
Role Play. This is pretend play taken to a another level. Present mock situations for your child and you to act out that will challenge their ability to self-regulate. For example: Take that restaurant scenario from above and ask what they would do if the kitchen ran out of a certain food, if the waiter dropped the plate, or if the customer didn't like it.
Play Games. This allows children to practice following set rules in a certain setting. It's great for teaching impulse control, restraint, and delayed gratification. For example: Red light, Green light (running only at the right time); singing BINGO (control to not sing at certain points in the song); and Red Rover (taking turns).
Model Behavior. Your children are always watching your example. Rather than stifling our emotions, let them see your coping strategies. When possible put words to your feelings and thoughts so they know exactly what you are doing. For example: "when Daddy leaves I feel sad, but I remember I will talk to him tonight", or "I want to have a snack, but I need to put away the dishes first."
Encourage Open Discussion. There is mounting evidence that children have more problems socially if their parents discourage them from displaying negative emotions such as sadness or fear. Parents who actively encourage emotional expression by acknowledging and talking about their own feelings help children understand emotions, encourages constructive coping and empathy in children and is associated with social competence. (That is a paraphrase of a quote, but I can't find where it's from. Sorry!) For Example: Try making an emotional barometer; a dial that your child can use to show how strong their feelings are. Then ask them to talk to you about why they are feeling that way.
Unfamiliar Situations. As stated above, parents who expose their children to unfamiliar situations, while maintaining an environment that feels secure to the child, provide opportunities for the child to practice their coping strategies. Let your child try out an extracurricular activity and make sure they know you are sitting close and watching them the whole class. Pay attention and follow up afterward with a discussion including specific observations you made and questions about how your child was feeling at different times. For example: "I noticed you jumped high on the trampoline during gymnastics, was that your favorite part?", or "I saw the other kids smiling at you when you were waiting your turn to kick the ball, would you like to become their friend?"
Anger is the emotion that often comes to mind when we are talking about self-regulation, but remember that any feeling taken to the extreme can be unhealthy for your child: sorrow, fear, shyness, pride, perfection, nervousness, even curiosity. The first step is to teach our children the right vocabulary and how to identify the feelings. From there we can encourage correct responses to those feeling both in self and in others. In time, they will appreciate having a wide range of emotions that they use to expand their life rather than being controlled and restricted by those feelings.
And here is one other PDF document I found online that might give some more ideas: Behavior Template.