teaching self regulation skills
Sep 14 2023

Teaching Self-Regulation Skills in the Classroom: A 3-Step Approach

Positive Action Staff
Picture this: It’s hot outside, you’re stuck in traffic and the AC isn’t nearly as strong as it should be. And just as you’re finally about to make a turn someone cuts… you… off.

It doesn’t stop there: you make it to the store, excited about buying materials for the life skills class you’ve been dying to teach all week, and someone (again) steals the parking space you’d been eyeing.

How do you react?

Do you get angry, yell, or confront the other driver? Or do you count to ten, take a deep breath, and let it go?

Your response to these situations depends on your ability to control your emotions and behavior.

Likewise, kindergarten teachers can attest that children experience similarly frustrating situations in their childhood years.

However, they can’t control their emotions and actions...yet.

This is where educators come in. With their help, students can learn self-management techniques for controlling their behavior.

“I am very grateful for these lessons. They fulfill a need that so many children are lacking in the educational process today” — Linda Davis, 2nd Grade Teacher

What Is Self-Regulation in the Classroom?

Self-regulated learning (SRL) happens when a student takes responsibility for their own academic success by managing their resources like time, energy, thoughts, and actions.

Becoming self-regulated happens in three steps:

  1. Planning—First, the student:

    • Lays out their tasks

    • Sets goals

    • Creates a schedule for when to perform the task

    • Outlines strategies to tackle the task

  2. Monitoring—In this stage, the student executes their plans and closely monitors their performance and experience with their methods of choice.

  3. Reflection—Finally, upon completing the task the student reviews their performance, “Where did I do really well and what could I have done better?”

When students implement self-regulation skills they get to know their preferred learning style and, ultimately, they perform at a higher level.

Furthermore, as the student goes beyond through different grade levels beyond middle school, self-regulation will help them:

  • Behave in socially acceptable ways because self-regulation strengthens their ability to control their impulsive actions

  • Build healthy friendships by turn-taking in games, sharing toys, and expressing emotions in appropriate ways

  • Become more independent by making good decisions about their behavior in unfamiliar situations with less adult-supervision

  • Manage stress by believing they have what it takes to cope with strong feelings and even soothe themselves after a bout of anger

Now, as a teacher, you could be doing everything right. You’re covering the curriculum at an appropriate pace and trying to listen to your students, but their behaviors still indicate they’re struggling with self-regulation.

How so?

  • They may not be paying attention

  • They may be unable to follow instructions

  • They may have a hard time remembering what they just heard

So let’s dig into some of the ways you can enhance self-regulation in the classroom.

What Are Self-Regulation Strategies?

As with any skill, self-regulation strategies must be explicitly taught. This means kids need to:

  1. See a positive model (I do)

  2. Practice it with help (We do)

  3. Finally, apply it on their own (You do)

I Do

In the ‘I do’ learning phase, the teacher becomes a model of self-regulated behavior.

This by no means makes them perfect because even teachers struggle to self-regulate at times.

It means a model that’s striving to self-regulate and is open to showing students what the actual journey looks like.

One of the most important ways you can teach self-regulation in the classroom is by sharing your feelings.

There are times you feel irritated or defeated. Sharing those experiences with your students can help them learn to identify and label their feelings.

In fact, think aloud so that students see the mental process you go through.

Point out that though you may feel like yelling at or even punching someone, you make a different choice and your students can too.

For example:

“I feel frustrated because the bell rang and our lesson ended before I could complete my lesson plan.

So first, I’m acknowledging that it’s okay to be frustrated.

After doing this, I’ve decided to break down my future lesson plans to allocate an entire lesson for questions after we cover our current topic.”

Following this practical demonstration, find and read books with characters who are and aren’t successful at self-regulation.

Remember to include both positive and maladaptive examples because they’re valuable.

Dig deeper and talk about what happens when the characters, or people, don’t self-regulate then share some consequences like:

  • Getting in trouble

  • Breaking something valuable

  • Losing friends

  • Just feeling really terrible

Lastly, close this segment by singing this encouraging song titled, “Improve Myself” that the students can constantly refer to.

We Do

The ‘We Do’ learning phase entails practicing self-regulation skills alongside your students.

Manufacture scenarios through role-playing, reading stories, watching video clips, or asking them to think up their own specific scenario.

Now, the trick is to stop at the point of conflict in the scenario, then practice a self-regulation strategy like mindfulness through:

Deep Breathing

Breathing in deeply through their nose (to the count of five) and out through their mouth (to or past the count of five).

Alternatively, use a breathing strategy called “balloon breathing,” to teach students how their belly is like a balloon that expands and deflates as they take deep breaths.

This simple technique can help them calm down when angry, and refocus.

Focus Exercises

Initiate exercises that require repetitive action like finding objects of a certain color and counting something.

Using guided imagery, ask your students to imagine somewhere they’ve previously been where they feel very relaxed. Let them know they can close their eyes and ‘go there’ whenever they feel angry or agitated.

Body Awareness

Teach students to pay attention to what their bodies are telling them and propose a positive coping mechanism. For instance:

  • Are they feeling restless? They may be tired and need to stretch away from their desk.

  • Agitated? They may be disappointed about something so journaling can help them to pinpoint the cause then practice positive self-talk

  • A knot in their stomach? They may be worried about answering questions in class so reassure them that any answer they provide counts as a win.

In a nutshell, teach them to pay attention to feelings in their body, then help them figure out what those things mean for them.

You Do

At this point, your student is ready to implement their self-regulation skills independently. Ideally, they can identify when they need to self-soothe and regulate their behavior.

Of course, you may need to step in as the teacher to help them identify those times but here are some tools that can help students self-regulate on their own:

Calm Down Kit

A calm-down kit can help students regulate intense emotions. But first practice using them together extensively in the ‘we do’ phase so they don’t just become a toy.

Positive Internal Dialogue

Collect synonyms for our main emotions: sad, mad, glad, and scared to inspire a more nuanced ability for students to name their own emotions.

Go ahead and give them empowering ‘mantras’ to use like ‘I’ve got this.’ or ‘I can handle it.’ And include a song that encourages them to give their best.

Finally, remember developing self-regulation takes time so be patient. You’re already doing an incredible job equipping your students with skills for life-long success.

“In second grade, I started fights with anyone who tried to challenge me. Fourth grade is where I changed my life around. I felt like I wasn’t being threatened. I felt safe. I made new friends and didn’t care to fight. I realized I’m great at science, math, and of course, PE. It’s a lot more fun to be in class, not the office.” - Jason. G

How Do You Promote Self-Regulation in the Classroom?

The best way to teach self-regulation strategies is highly contingent on the ability of the classroom manager to create an ideal classroom environment.

And this is where our Whole School Reform Model comes in.

By addressing the school’s entire ecosystem—school, family, and community—Positive Action’s curriculum includes topics that encourage positive behaviors.

Say goodbye to poor self-control and hello to student-driven self-regulation.

"Positive Action is making positive changes in the lives of youth in Jackson-Madison County! We attribute this success to the model program that Positive Action provides, along with the professional staff members that deliver it.” - Barry Cooper, Prevention Director of JACOA.

Schedule a webinar with us and we’ll walk you through our curriculum showing you how it can meet your specific goals as an institution.