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What is self regulation?

Self Regulation is the ability to monitor and control our own behavior, emotions, or thoughts. It includes the ability to alter them when necessary, given the demands of the situation. To self-regulate, one may need to inhibit their first impulse of emotion or behavior, understand and sort through relevant and irrelevant information, avoid distractions, and persist on tasks even when we don’t enjoy them.

Self-regulation correlates with various positive outcomes for children and adolescents—including better academic performance, problem-solving skills, and reading comprehension; more satisfying interactions with peers; higher levels of intrinsic motivation, self-worth, perceived competence, self-efficacy, moral cognition, and moral conduct and fewer behavior problems.

What is Emotional Regulation?

Emotional regulation is a term generally used to describe a person’s ability to effectively manage and respond to an emotional experience. People unconsciously use emotional regulation strategies to cope with difficult situations many times throughout each day. Most of us use a variety of emotional regulation strategies and are able to apply them to different situations in order to adapt to the demands of our environment.

What is Behavioral Regulation?

Behavioral Regulation refers to our ability to use self-control to behave in appropriate ways – this may mean controlling our impulses so that we stop doing something (such as a child talking loudly during class) or it may mean doing something, even if we don’t want to (being polite to our teacher, even though we are not happy). It also refers to the ability to manage our energy, emotions, attention, and behavior in ways that are socially acceptable and help us to achieve our goals.

Our ability to regulate or manage our behavior allows us to focus when there are distractions, pay attention to the most important information, take turns, wait, follow rules, adapt to new situations, do what is socially expected, suppress outbursts of anger, and take on challenges. Behavior regulation develops gradually during childhood. This process doesn’t happen overnight, and some children are able to cope with daily stresses more easily than others.

What is Cognitive Regulation?

Cognitive Regulation is an emotion regulation strategy that involves changing the way we think about a situation. For example, a child may fail a test and think negatively about his or her grade. But if the child revisits their emotional response to the bad grade, and later thinks about it as a way to challenge him/herself to do better the next time, it can create a more positive feeling and outcome. This strategy addresses the child’s perception of a situation, rather than directly changing the situation, which in this example, can not be changed, but can be improved for the next time.

Strategies to help develop self-regulation in children


  1. Model Good Self Regulation

If a teacher struggles to manage their own emotions, and reacts angrily or takes their student’s challenging behavior personally, the child may feel that their negative and/or big emotions are unacceptable. While we certainly do want our students to experience positive emotions as much as possible, it is important to teach acceptance of ALL emotions.

Next, we want to assist the child in learning to soothe their own big emotions, and with practice, be able to control their emotions and behavior to be more socially acceptable, even during times of upset.

     2. Respond Thoughtfully

When a child experiences emotional dysregulation, how we respond is very important.  If we stay calm and guide them by scaffolding ways that they can help themselves, we will be teaching self-control. Every experience like this is creating the brain pathways to handle difficult situations in the future. But if we let the child’s anxiety rattle us, so that we ourselves have a big reaction or instantly solve the child’s problem for them to try to shorten their discomfort or avoid a meltdown, they wont have the opportunity to gain the confidence that they can handle their negative emotions and that anxiety can’t be tolerated. This may make a child feel that they must rush in and take action, rather than taking the time to self-regulate to make a better decision. The rushing tendency comes from anxiety and sabotages the building of the neural pathways needed to improve self-regulation.

  1. Teach Mindfulness

Teaching children mindfulness is a great strategy to help improve self-regulation. Mindfulness teaches children to be aware of their own thoughts and feelings as well as what is going on around them. Being mindful of one’s own thoughts, feelings, surroundings and events, helps children to be able to adjust their emotions and behavior to match the given situation.

4. Set Empathetic Limits

Every time we set a limit that a child accepts, they are practicing self-regulation. Therefore, punishment doesn’t actually encourage self-regulation, because the child isn’t choosing to stop what they are doing; rather, they are being forced to.  Setting a limit with understanding, so that the child is wiling to accept it, is what helps a child develop self-discipline.

      5. Let Them Wait

 Kids who practice “waiting”  learn to tolerate waiting, to trust that the waiting will be worth it, and to learn strategies for waiting. Every time we exercise self-regulation by waiting, we build our ability to draw on the skills needed to meet our needs in a socially acceptable way.

      6. Use Natural Learning Opportunites 

Kids develop self-discipline when they’re motivated by something important to them.  For example; playing with other kids requires them to manage their emotions and impulses.  Making cookies requires them to wait until the cookies are baked.  Getting good at soccer requires them to practice kicking over and over.  Opportunities to practice self-control {self-regulation} are all around us.

How teachers can support students who experience dysregulation?

  1. Ask questions that make the connection between emotions and behavior.

Take the time to stop and talk about emotions in the classroom. Beyond simply asking students, “How do you feel?”  we can also ask questions such as, how an event—such as a looming test—makes the child feel and how they think that emotion makes them behave. Try to get your students to connect their emotions to their behavior.  Making these connections is critical, and it needs to be done frequently and consistently.


  1. Be patient.

The kids who have the most difficulty managing their behavior are often the ones who are falling behind or have gaps in their academic or social knowledge. Most of the time, the negative behavior patterns are ingrained in them due to years of behaviors fueled by their emotions. Some, have not yet been identified as having emotional regulation challenges, they may not have been taught to learn how to manage their emotions, and as a result, have self-reinforced their negative behaviors.

So, not only is it important to get to the core of the issues by teaching emotions but doing so with patience is key. It will take a time to reorient, but the good news is that the brain can be repaired! New neural pathways can be developed, with time and consistency.


  1. Set the tone first thing in the morning.

Begin the school day by asking your students how they are feeling and/or about things that might be bothering them. The idea is to discuss any event that likely elicited a feeling. This sets the tone for the day, giving you the heads up on who might have a tough day and why. Some kids, particularly the ones with regulation issues, perseverate on things. If the event is still playing in the student’s head, it’s likely the emotion is still festering too. 


  1. Check in all day long.

It’s beneficial to stop throughout the day for quick regulation checks. This way kids can vocalize if there are any lingering emotions from an activity or event that has recently occurred.


     5. Build a emotions  “word wall.”

Build your student’s emotional vocabulary by giving them direct access to those words and feelings. Creating a “word wall” filled with “feelings” words or hanging a poster in the room with “feelings” faces.


     6. Designate a “calm-down spot.”

As teachers, we have the power to create an emotionally safe classroom in which all feelings are OK, and it’s reinforced that taking care of yourself is normalized and respected. “A ‘calm-down spot’ in the classroom is a great way to do that.


     7. Take the pressure off academic success.

We can be very well meaning and give students tons of extra support as they show emotional challenges while attempting academic work, but if children are not taught the skills needed to regulate their emotions, we are not likely to see improvement. We may need to pull back on the academics until we’ve taught them emotional regulation. Rebalance the students’ tasks until they’ve learned some strategies to manage their emotions. Then go back to academics.

Teaching kids how to manage their emotions will result in increased attention, which transforms them into students who are ready to learn!


Thanks So Much and Happy Teaching!

Cindy ~Socially Skilled Kids