The Missing Developmental Milestones, the Ability to Self-Regulate and … Wait

I was talking with my teenage daughter this week as she had just finishing purchasing a purse that she bidded on on ebay.  As she was excitedly reflecting, I said to her “You know what is fun when you order on line? Waiting for it to come.”   She said excitedly, “I love to wait – it was so much fun waiting to go to the beach last week.”

As I have recently began working with children under three, I have noticed that it is much easier to track and note development if you can find several areas of need that may feed the most obvious need.  Each week, although working towards the main goal, the most obvious progress is quite often in other areas of development feeding that main need.  Sometimes in areas I had never noticed or thought of, I have a couple young children whose main area of need is some type of language / speech development.  But with these very young children, it seems like building towards that goal is like taking a pyramid on a revolving plate, and each week hammering on a different wall progressively step by step upwards.  Some weeks there is little speech put out (or minimally to meet the objective). However, the child’s intense focus on a fine motor, eye contact, attentiveness, gross motor skill, etc. is incredible.  Ironically, as I was working with a little guy on getting through to the other side, his speech was not coming forth as quickly as the emotion to do so was calling.   The ability for that language was there, but not the speed for the need.  Therefore, there was frustrated crying as he tried to put something together that we just could not understand.  As the parent and I tried to help, we could not understand completely what he wanted.  Amazingly, after about ten minutes of frustratedly trying, this little guy (who six months before hated cleaning up his toys and had very little understandable speech) began to put everything he was using back in the box and asked for my guitar.  After wiping his own tears with a tissue, he began to strum string by string gently as a I mirrored his playing on the piano.  He looked up at me a few times smiling and repeatedly whispered “wow, wow.”    He calmed himself and we went on to the next thing.

As we finished the session, he began to step outside the room.  The parent and I discussed a few things.  The little guy stepped back inside, looked for temporary entertainment and occasionally looked at the parent to see if the parent was ready to leave. Eventually, through the little guy’s extreme frustration, the much needed verbal expression for help was released without any prompting.  This was good to know; however, we were unsure of what kind of help.  The most important part of the session demonstrated was the ability to self regulate completely SELF regulate.  It seems to me that when we say self regulate, what we are usually looking for is the child following through with a direction we have given.  This also is a legitimate skill.  However, I wonder how many typically developing children, teens, or even adults feeling that amount of frustration are able to take that level of frustration in their own hands and find a healthy outlet to help them self regulate their own emotions.

When my daughter said “I love to wait”, the first thing I thought of was that boy waiting patiently for his parent.  I can personally attest that after having three typically developing children and having worked in an elementary school with only typically developing children, that I can name multiple scenes of the opposite.  I am having difficulty recalling similar scenes of patience.  We rarely measure this by benchmarks, standards, or developmental milestones.  But how significant not only to our own emotional and social development but to societies development as a whole.  Truly in the day of road rage and addiction, genuine self regulation of emotions and the ability to wait are lost arts.

Okay, but how did the Music Therapy assist in this?  Let me explain.   First, the repetitive mirrored little tune for this little boy provides not only the structured reliable safety and stability (a musical phrase – structure over time), but by it’s repetitive nature, something he can count on and predict.  This phrase also mirrors musically back to him his interests and behavior.  It is composed by the pitches he makes, the arc of movements he demonstrates, and the timing of his activity level.  It’s structured repetitive sense allows his actions to fit into a structure.  This structure gives his own movements and actions time ordered direction and eventually purpose.  The pitches and vocabulary of his tune are reflected in the sounds he makes, things he is interested in, and are narrative of all he does.  This allows him to hear, understand, process, and then fit his actions to the music and also use the words.  Through the repetitive and predictable nature of the music, he gains the ability to attend, choose his actions, and use vocabulary to express his wants and needs.  As the frustration and anxiety lowers, relationship and confidence increases as does attentiveness.  When frustration does occur, there is an outlet Now he has some language to use. When frustration occurs that language cannot express yet, he has learned to use methods that are familiar and safe to help him to relax and lower emotional turbulence and find self regulatory calm.

Self regulation and the ability to …. wait, a lost art.


Laura C Zander Racic

Nice site, posted to facebook, twitter and goggle. This therapy was what got my Autistic daughter talking again. She got hers at Shenandoah University in Winchester, VA

vicky abad

Thank you for sharing this story, what you say is so true. In my business one of the main emotional developmental areas we work on with the children is the ability to self-regulate, and in particular, to wait for a turn and to wait for others. It is great to read what other people are also doing.
Vicky Abad from Boppin’ Babies

Sheila Young

This is an incredibly well-researched article, clearly given from years of direct experience. Thank you. I’m a retired RN, w/experience (1 year each) in Peds., Neurology, & more, and being a Substitute School RN. I learned more about personality needs in the schools, than I did on Peds. I’m working on a biography (if it ever gets done) of a woman, now with tremendous healing of: R.A.D., Disinhibited at 1 1/2, manifesting more Inhibited by 3 1/2, being picked up and forcibly shaken by an Aunt, at least 3 times (repetitive cycles of shaking each time), PTSD of an Uncle boxing the preschool cousin, when she was 3, 4, 4 1/2, and Paranoia at 3, S.A.D. by 4. I do believe in Music Therapy, Art Therapy, Movement e.g. Dance, and also the need to develop a language the child can use. Much of this book is about the varying languages used in the home, and with extended family. Various languages are described. Much of the mother’s speech patterns were non-verbal, but very expressive. I’m not very far on the book yet, (and can’t return to it until Oct.), but the purpose is to offer hope to families with children who have Attachment Disorders. There is hope. Anyone who has links, counsel, success stories to share, please share them. I’m listening.

Elaine Dolan

Thanks for sharing a real life experience of mirroring through music–I see now how it is allows for communication without judgement, for frustrated, probably unattached/bonded children. Inspiring!


Thank you for the comment, it truly is helpful to me. I am not always sure what I am writing is coming across as I intend it. Thank you!

Kathleen Benckendorf

I’m an adoptive parent with more familiarity with RAD than I ever expected or wanted to have. 😉 I’ve also trained in various methods to work with RAD and other related issues. The ability to self-regulate is HUGE, and missing in these kids. They didn’t learn it because they didn’t have the secure attachment relationship and attunement to develop this ability in their earliest years.

My own personal brain dump on possible treatment methods for RAD and trauma is at

Edie Castaneda

Wonderful! So simple. Thanks for the info, you made it easy to understand. If you ever need to fill out a form, here is a really useful tool. Very easy to navigate and use.


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