Teachers are all too aware of the commonality of students coming to school with poor regulation skills. Self-regulation, a vital skill in both school and in life, is responsible for everything from being able to listen, to staying focused on work, to getting along with others. Without this skill, children’s behavior falls apart and their learning capacity is greatly diminished. Though it can be discouraging to feel that we must be all things to all people, teachers do have the ability to help kids learn self-regulation and work together to remove the barriers to learning. Like most skills, self-regulation must be explicitly taught. This means kids need to see a positive model (I do) Practice it with help (We do) and finally apply it on their own (You do.)
I do: In the ‘I do’ phase, the teacher becomes a model of healthy self-regulation. That doesn’t mean a perfect model, because even teachers struggle to self-regulate at times (just ask the chocolate stash in your bottom drawer.) It means a model that is attempting to self-regulate and willing to show them how the process is done. Some ways you can model this for your students include:
- Share your Feelings. There are times you feel angry or frustrated. Share those experiences with your students. Identifying feeling is a large part of being able to self-regulate.
- Think Aloud: Model the mental process you go through and the thoughts you have. Point out that though you may feel like yelling at or punching someone you make a different choice and your students can too.
- Literature: Read books with characters who are and aren’t successful at self-regulation. Both good examples and non-examples are valuable. Talk about what happens when characters, or people, don’t self-regulate. There are various potential consequences you can share with students including getting in trouble, breaking something valuable, losing friends, or just feeling really terrible.
We do: In the ‘We Do’ phase you practice the skills that you want students to put into place together. This often means manufacturing scenarios. You can role play, read stories, watch video clips, or have them imagine themselves in a specific scenario. Stop at the point of conflict and practice self-regulation strategies, such as:
- Deep Breathing: Teach students to breathe in deeply through their nose (to the count of five) and out through their mouth (to or past the count of five.) This can help them calm down when angry, and also to refocus.
- Mindfulness is a very broad category and there are many examples of it. Overall, mindfulness means being aware of your surroundings so you aren’t overwhelmed by your feelings. Some mindfulness exercises can include finding objects of a certain color, counting something, etc. Usually, a repetitive action that requires full attention.
- Guided Imagery: Have students imagine somewhere they have been where they feel very relaxed. They can close their eyes and ‘go there’ when they feel angry or agitated.
- Meditation is another, more specific mindfulness strategy. Meditation truly is just practicing regulating yourself, your body responses, and your emotions. There are many resources for guided, children’s meditation. Have students do meditation as a class. Once they have mastered this skill it will help them in all areas of self-regulation.
- Body Awareness: Teach students to pay attention to what their bodies are telling them. Are they feeling restless? A brain break or stretch might help. Agitated? They need to calm down. Teach them to pay attention to feelings in their body (a knot in their stomach, their face feeling hot, legs feeling like they need to move, etc.) Then help them figure out what those things mean for them.
You do: Finally, after focusing on ‘I do’ and ‘We do,’ the last area we must focus is ‘You do.’ At this point, the student is ready to apply the skills they have learned independently. Ideally, they can identify when they need to take a timeout to calm down or refocus. Of course, this isn’t an ideal world so you as the teacher may have to help them identify those times.
- Calm Down Kit: A calm down kit can help the child regulate their often intense emotions. Of course, the tools in this kit are up to you but look here for some suggestions. Practice using them together extensively in the ‘we do’ phase so they don’t just become a toy.
- Incorporate Positive Self-Talk: As part of their calm down kit, or on a bookmark or poster, Give students the words to talk to themselves in a positive way. Give them ‘mantras’ to read and use with phrases such as ‘I’ve got this.’ or ‘I can handle it.’
Finally, remember the time to teach students self-regulation isn’t in the middle of a meltdown or when a child is already out of control. Instead, teach these skills proactively, when the students are still calm. Remember to be patient. Self-regulation is a skill that takes time to develop. It won’t happen overnight. You are doing great things for kids in teaching them skills they need to be successful their whole lives.
By: Amy Curletto
Amy has been teaching for 12 years in grades K-2. She has a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education and also has endorsements in reading and ESL. Besides education, her other passion is writing and she has always dreamed of being a writer. She lives in Utah with her husband, her 3 daughters, and her miniature schnauzer. She enjoys reading, knitting, and camping.
Proud to be Primary. “Teaching Self-Regulation Skills in the Classroom.” Proud to Be Primary, 7 Feb. 2019, proudtobeprimary.com/teaching-kids-to-self-regulate-in-the-classroom/?utm_medium=social&utm_source=pinterest&utm_campaign=tailwind_tribes&utm_content=tribes.