A critical component of social and emotional learning is self-regulation. Self-regulation is the ability to monitor attention, thoughts and emotions. Students who have the ability to regulate their emotions and behavior are able to better engage with other students and respond to the varying activities of the day.
The Child Mind Institute describes self-regulation as a set of skills that develop as students mature. In order to best develop these skills, students need to regularly practice self-regulation habits. It is not enough for teachers to introduce strategies and trust that students will be able to act on them as needed. Each day students should be encouraged to use these strategies as they participate in play, interact with teachers and navigate their own responses and emotions.
Imagine two students are working together in a reading circle. Student A decides not to share the book any longer and Student B gets upset. Student B might experience feelings of anger or frustration that result in raising their voice. Self-regulation practices allows the student to take a pause, focus, and redirect that energy. In this case, the teacher could encourage the student to walk away and find a space that they can process their emotions. Perhaps the student goes to color or sit still in a comfortable space in the room.
Teachers can provide structure around break time after an incident and then encourage the students to communicate with each other after the initial feelings have subsided. This is an example of a teaching moment that allows the teacher to support the self-regulation process as well as an opportunity for the student to have some agency in the situation.
It is important to include self-regulation in the SEL curriculum as it becomes an opportunity to model when and how to practice managing emotions and behaviors. Once students are able to identify when the emotion or thoughts are controlling their responsive behaviors, they will then be able to make a healthy choice about responding to those emotions.
See below for some tools and practices that can be shared with your students to incorporate self-regulation in the classroom. (They can also be helpful for the adults in the school building!)
5 Tools to Practice Self-regulation
This teaches young people to focus intentionally on the present by bringing focus to the body, space and emotions in order to gain control. Mindfulness allows a young person to pay close attention to the situation without judgement and breathe deeply. This works great for classroom behavior and anxiety as it allows the student to have agency in the situation, take a moment and then choose to engage in their own time.
This is a chance for students to take a pause and engage in a soothing activity. Designate specific areas or activities in the classroom for students to choose from that help to regulate their emotions or behaviors. For example choosing a coloring sheet, listening to soothing music or a physical activity like stretching that will allow students to shift their focus.
Use a check-in chart that presents different emotions on a scale. Allow the student to identify their feelings as a way to manage their emotions and verbalize what they are experiencing. This chart is a communication tool that can guide a follow up conversation and provide direction for next steps.
This activity will require the support of the teacher or other adult in the space. Taking the student out of the classroom to concentrate and focus will give the student space to process their emotional or behavioral responses and then center themselves. This will require some pre-scripted language and time set aside to participate. Alternatively, all students can participate in this regularly to create a positive start to their day.
Provide a writing space for students to reflect on their emotions and behaviors. Teachers can provide guided questions or have the student engage in their own free write. I suggest that the adult and the student use this reflection to determine what should take place next or how they can address their response to other situations that may trigger high emotions or challenging behavior.
All of these tools and practices can be used in combination with each other or at varying times during the day. This is important because some students may need more support than others. Each student may choose to use a practice that bests suits them and the teacher or adult in that space should be flexible. As students move throughout the the day, teachers/staff should take advantage of teachable moments. This will normalize the habit of self-regulation and encourage students to practice on their own. Students with healthy emotional and positive behavior intelligence are able to better navigate their learning spaces and their world. As educators, we can continue to support their development with important skills to be used in and outside of the classroom.