Promoting Self-Regulation in the Classroom

“Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people.” Author Robert Fulghum made it sound easy in “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”  Kindergarten (and early childhood) teachers would help children master these important life skills. Children would learn at an early age to get along with their peers and control their behavior.

Most classroom teachers recognize that teaching these skills is not as simple as Fulghum made it sound. While some children develop them with ease, others struggle with self-regulation, perseverance, attention, or problem-solving. Fortunately, research in the area of soft skills by James Heckmann and others has led to a shift in education. These important skills are being more widely taught as we begin to learn how they are related to positive academic outcomes. Current trends include growth mindset, effective habits, and social-emotional learning.

As a result, many teachers are providing direct instruction in non-academic areas to ensure that their students are successful in school and in life. One important skill is self-regulation, which is  the ability to manage one’s movements, emotions, thoughts, attention, and behavior. Self-regulation allows a person to control impulses in order to react or respond to situations appropriately. There are many activities that can be incorporated into classroom routines to promote self-regulation.

  • Play games such as “Red Light, Green Light,” “Simon Says,” or “Mother May I.” These games teach children to pause before reacting. They provide opportunities to practice listening. Visit this website for directions on how to play these games and more.
  • Read books about self-regulation. Choose books that show different behaviors. Discuss how the characters acted and how they could have acted differently. Use these read-alouds to provide children with words for talking about feelings and behaviors.
    • “The Angry Dragon” by Michael Gordon
    • “When Sophie Gets Angry–Really, Really Angry” by Molly Bang
    • “My Mouth is a Volcano” by Julia Cook
    • “Waiting is Not Easy” by Mo Willems
  • Teach kid-friendly breathing techniques. Show children that breathing can help them calm down or refocus their attention. Start by using breathing exercises with the whole class. For example, when transitioning from an active task to a quieter one, model a breathing exercise for children. Have them copy you. When children have learned several, begin prompting individual children to use breathing at needed times. The goal is for children to use breathing independently to regulate their behavior.
  • Talk about problem-solving. Use think-alouds to show children how you solve simple problems throughout the day. For example, “We usually use a red marker to color our thermometer, but I cannot find it. That is a problem. I can solve it by looking again for the red or choosing a different color to use.” Also, use problem-solving as a compliment. “Rosa, I like the way that you helped solve a problem in stations. You and Jenny both wanted to use the blue dough cutter. You solved the problem by taking turns.”

Self-regulation is a vital skill. Most adults are not even conscious that they are using it. But for children to master it, they need opportunities to talk through and practice the techniques that allow them to manage their own thoughts, words, and actions.

How do you promote self-regulation in your classroom? Add a comment below to share your best practice. We will select a few original ones to shoutout in a future Education Solutions blog post.