Regulation- The balance between overwhelmed and underwhelmed

Regulation is a big term. Sometimes it’s referred to as emotional regulation, self-regulation or sensory regulation.  I think of regulation as finding the middle ground between overwhelmed and underwhelmed. This is where were are happy, healthy and thriving. It looks a little different for everyone. Some people do well under the stress of meeting deadlines while others are their best when working ahead of time. We can be overwhelmed by stress, bodily sensations, thoughts, and feelings. When we are overwhelmed it’s harder to do even simple tasks or follow our routines. In children it can look like lashing out, temper tantrums, crying, and screaming.  Being underwhelmed is when we are uninterested in what’s going on around us and what we are experiencing. In children being underwhelmed can look like acting out, being distracted in the classroom, and “ignoring” parents instructions.

Emotional Regulation - Infant Development

Regulation can happen by yourself or with a trusted other or group. This is commonly referred to as self-regulation(by yourself) or co-regulation (with others).  Children learn self-regulation through co-regulation. Parents can only support co-regulation when they are regulated. What a mouthful. 


For me, as an Occupational therapist,  regulation is about using science based tools to support happy healthy families do the things they love. By supporting parents, caregivers and children learn about how they regulate we can create strategies for the whole family to thrive. Regulation is the key to family health and happiness no matter the challenges they are facing. In this post I want to share 3 different ways to use regulation tools. Try and figure out which way your family likes to regulate and which areas you’d like to find more tools for!

1. Regulating in activities 

This is when you use a tool to help complete another activity. An example of regulating during an activity would be taking a sip of coffee when you are replying to emails. Drinking coffee isn’t part of the activity (responding to emails) but it helps keep you focused and on task. A common tool for kids is to take a deep breath (or three) when tasks are overwhelming before quitting. This supports them to be able to try again or ask for help. The three breaths is the regulation tool used so they access more of their brain to problem solve rather than letting the stress take-over and end up acting out! 

2. Activity as regulation

We do these kinds of activities to feel better! These are the activities I think of as self-care. Sometimes these are not fun or might not feel good in the moment but support us to have better days and weeks. Activities that help regulate are: yoga, meditation, walking, massage, mountain biking,  working out, painting, playing music, interacting with animals, looking at the clouds, relaxing on the beach, jumping on a trampoline. It’s all about exploring what your body needs to be at your best. 


3. Regulation as a lifestyle:  

Add regulating activities into your daily routines. Personally, I find driving something stressful in my day. I get drained finding parking and getting stuck in traffic.  To avoid feeling stressed before a meeting I try to commute by bicycle as often as I can. It’s awesome because I get to empty my stress bucket instead of adding stress that I get when driving! 

Emotional regulation bike commuting

Movement is one of the best ways to reduce stress. Add walking, biking or dancing into your routines to get more movement everyday! For children are sleepy in the morning try doing a morning obstacle course. Morning obstacle course could look like jumping like a bunny to the bathroom to brush teeth. Pretend to walk a tightrope on the way to breakfast! Add pushing movements, pulling movements and fun into a kid’s morning routine to help them get ready more independently and be ready to play and learn.


For more ideas about regulation check resources by my favorite researcher and regulation expert Dr. Shanker at

About Jen Taubensee

Jen Taubensee is an Occupational Therapist focus on family wellness. Her coaching helps kids and parents develop the skills to thrive in their everyday lives and have more fun doing the things that matter to them! She has had the opportunity to walk alongside families and children who expereince brain injury, concussion, autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, mental health challenges (anxiety, depression, PTSD, trauma, schizophrenia), social struggles, behavioural issues, developmental delays, learning delays and those who are looking to have more fun everyday! Jen loves supporting families with strategies to support emotional regulation, behaviour management, connection, executive functioning, positive parenting, toileting, (not so picky) eating, sleep, healthy and happy routines, fine and gross motor development and PLAY! Reach your goals with OT Jen's creative, fun and meaningful strategies.

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