Guide to regulating children for riding in the car

Understanding self-regulation
Self-regulation is an individual’s ability to monitor and manage their own behaviours, emotions, concentration, and energy levels according to the environment they are in (Bundy et al, 1991). For example, when a child is at school their body may need to use more energy and concentration to perform tasks for learning or playing whereas less is needed for nap time at school. Two key parts of self-regulation include sensory and emotional regulation. Sensory regulation is an individual’s ability to adjust all the information they receive from their environment to perform an appropriate response (Schaaf, 2015). Emotional regulation is an individual’s ability to respond to an experience with an emotion and manage it in the situation (Thompson, 1991).

Why is it important for children to regulate themselves when in the car?
• Reduce the possibility of the driver getting distracted.
• Enables driver to focus on the driving and react to situations appropriately.
• Promotes safety of driver, passengers, other people on the road and pedestrians.
• Encourages child to develop their ability to self-regulate independently.
• To support them transitioning to the next environment they are going to.

Strategies to support regulation in the car
Please keep in mind every child is different and has different needs. What may support regulating one child’s sensory profile could also be dysregulating for another. Sometimes strategies may be more useful than others and some might work on one occasion and not help on another. Though there are strategies that help during the car ride, there are also activities children can do before entering the car.


What could be performed before car ride? How does this help self-regulation?
Animal walks/jumping/stomping to car. Helps transition to/from car.
Jumping on crash mat/trampoline. Deep pressure.

Helps manage arousal levels.

Encourage child to play outside. Help reduce arousal levels especially for long road trips.
Child help pack/unpack car with caregiver. Helps transition to/from car.

Provides movement to help arousal levels.

Provide time for activities before ride and avoid rushing. Minimise child feeling anxious.

Helps transition to car.

What could help during car ride? How does this help self-regulation?
Turn off music.

Turn calming songs on.

Singing songs together.

Remove noise child does not respond well to.

Music can help relax children.

Encourages child to interact with others.

Use a blanket or stuffed animal for child to hold around them. Gives child deep pressure.
Book for child to look at. Gives child an activity to do.

Supports learning.

Encourage child to hug themselves.

Hug their sibling.

Gives child deep pressure.

Supports strong relationships with siblings.

Fidget toys/hand lotion Gives touch input child may seek.
Providing chewy foods eg. roll- ups

Sucking on a lollipop.

Chewing and sucking helps child calm down.

Gives oral input child may seek.

Deep breathing games Self-calming.
Simon Says. Actions for child to give themselves deep pressure.

Actions to help with coordination.

Encourage child to follow instructions.


Bundy, AC, Lane, SJ & Murray, EA 1991, ‘Sensory integration theory and practice,’ 2nd edn, F.A. Davis Company, Philadelphia.

Schaaf, RC, Benevides, TW & Sendecki, JA 2013, ‘Autonomic dysregulation during sensory stimulation in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder,’ Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, vol. 45, no. 2, pp. 461-472.

Thompson, RA 1991, ‘Emotional regulation and emotional development,’ Educational Psychology Review, vol. 3, no. 4, pp. 269-307.


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