Emotional regulation is a fundamental socio-emotional skill, children must learn in the early years. Children who can manage their emotions and know how to deal with problems will be more successful with conflict resolution and problem-solving in their later years. Teachers should provide guidance and embed emotional regulation strategies within their practice to enhance children’s abilities to succeed in their academic, social and career aspects of life.
What is Emotional Regulation?
Emotional regulation is not only about being able to vent out frustration and anger in an appropriate manner. It is actually a three-step process that is often overlooked as simple. First, children must be able to identify the emotion they are feeling and then recognise what triggered this emotion. Lastly, children must be taught how to manage these emotions independently.
Managing emotions is an essential skill that helps children make good decisions in the long run, as feelings do not cloud their judgment. Additionally, emotional regulation helps equip children with the tools they need to tackle difficult situations and develop a growth mindset to foster positive thinking.
Why should Emotional Regulation be taught in the classroom?
Ultimately, we can’t shape how a child feels, but we are responsible for ensuring children feel safe in expressing all their emotions. Learning and refining all these socio-emotional skills is not something that occurs overnight. It takes time and practice. The process starts in the early years but continues till adulthood.
Teaching emotion regulation involves modelling the appropriate skills and providing opportunities for children to practice them. Students must also be ready to apply these self-regulation skills in different circumstances. Social emotional learning is best taught when teachers create warm and trusting relationships with children as well as constantly provide support so children can be the best version of themselves. Through student-centred approaches and social awareness, students can learn how to express their feelings in healthier ways.
How can Zones of Regulation help Emotional Regulation in the classroom?
The Zones of Regulations is an easy-to-implement framework that teaches children how to recognise their feelings and what strategies to use to regulate their emotions. The Zones can be used as traffic signs for children to express what they are feeling.
To put it simply, there are four different zones that help gives vital information about a child’s emotional state. The four categories are as follows:
Red: The child feels extremely heightened and intense emotions, including anger and fear.
Yellow: This is less intense than red. The child feels anxious, silly, nervous or extremely excited
Green: This is the zone in which prime learning occurs. Children feel happy, content and can remain focused.
Blue: Children may be feeling tired, unfocused, sick or dull.
Here are some quick tips you can implement in the classroom to help children understand more about managing emotions.
Ensure children feel valued in the classroom by making a conscious effort to get to know them. Ask them about their hobbies, interests and family to build a strong relationship. It’s vital that children feel a sense of belonging as well as consider it a safe place to share their thoughts and ideas.
As adults, we commonly check in with friends, relatives with colleagues, so why not with children? It doesn’t need to be verbal; it can even be through a quick activity. You can use our handy individual or group check-in resourceto start and end the day. For younger children, you might like to complete the group check-in weekly just to get children in the habit of thinking about their feelings.
As children get into the habit of emotional check-ins, a great mnemonic to remember is PASTA. This stands for
-P: Pause and take a breath
-A: Ask yourself how you feel
-S: Say the emotion you are feeling and alternatively write it on a paper
-T: Think about the feelings
-A: Ask yourself what you need or what will help the situation.
Pausing and asking these questions can automatically assist in calming and self-regulating.
3)Ensure you form strong relationships with each child
Building a warm relationship should be every teacher’s goal at the beginning of the year. When students feel supported, they will also feel comfortable in sharing things with you! If strong relationships are maintained, teachers will be able to tell straight away when students are having a bad day!
4)Start the day with greetings
Starting the day with circle time can be a great relationship-building opportunity to start the day! Ask children to give you simple gestures such as thumbs up, fist bump, elbow bump or wave to start the day together. This is an exciting way to teach self-regulation and communicate in informal ways.
Helping children form a habit of journaling early on can help children develop essential skills for self-awareness and managing emotions. A journal can become a safe space for both children and adults to open up as they deal with any concerns. Many children might not be able to share their problems with their peers openly, so having their own personal space to share their thoughts can help their emotional development.
6)Introduce the Zones of Regulations Early in the year
Familiarize the children with the zones of regulations at the beginning of the year, making it easier for them to relate to. Because all the emotions are categorised into four different colours, children will find it easier to distinguish how they feel. Children can develop self-awareness and improve their emotional control in a non-judgemental way. Have a look at ourzone of regulations pack which can be a great tool to introduce in the classroom.
7)Create a welcoming classroom environment
If classrooms are cluttered and filled with distractions, children will respond with negative behaviours as they feel stressed and overwhelmed. Ensure the classroom is a warm and inviting space where children enjoy learning. Having a few homely features within the classroom can help make children more comfortable. If children can remain focused and motivated, it will maximise their learning potential.
8)Help children set goals
Setting goals helps children set up a clear pathway to success as they are aware of what they need to achieve. It also increases children's motivation and boosts their confidence. Thelearning goals tracker is a wonderful resource that can be placed on children’s desks to remind them of what they are working towards.
There is a vast range of picture books on emotion regulation which can be used to simplify and make the topic more relatable. Here are a few suggestions to help get you started:
“When Sophie Gets Angry--Really, Really Angry” by Molly Bang
“The Very Cranky Bear” by Nick Bland
“How to take the Grrrr out of anger” by Elizabeth Verdick & Marjorie Lisovskis
“Waiting is Not Easy” by Mo Williams
10)Encourage positive thinking
It’s important to teach children self-confidence and to see the positives in every situation early on. In times of distress, a positive self-belief can go a long way in reducing anxiety and negative feelings. Positive affirmations are a great way to help children start thinking positively about themselves. Teachers must also make a conscious effort to provide positive reinforcement to children so they remain motivated.
11)Be a good role model
Both parents and teachers are the primary influence for children to live to their full potential. It is fundamental that we model positive values, attitudes, and behaviours for children to pick up. Model for children how to deal with negative emotions and give practical examples. Good role models can even make a lifelong impression on people’s lives, so it is important that children look up to you and are inspired by your actions.
12)Make time for arts and crafts
For kinaesthetic learners, providing hands-on sensory activities is crucial to maximising their learning. Allow children to engage in arts and crafts throughout the week. Art can be therapeutic for many children as they explore and mix different colours together. Many children might also use art as a means of expressing themselves.
13)Integrate mindfulness practices in the classroom
According toresearch conducted by mindful schools, a study found that 89% of students who practiced mindfulness in the classroom exhibited better emotional intelligence. Mindfulness practices can also help reduce behavioural problems as students are more engaged.Through these exercises, children can gain better control of their body and mind.
14) Assist children as they encounter conflict
Equipping children with practical strategies to deal with conflict can help them navigate through both small and big issues as they grow. Instead of solving the issue for children, teaching children empathy, respect and how to let go will help them resolve conflicts on their own. Highlight the importance of being honest and admitting to things they might have done wrong. When children understand that there is a solution to everything, they are more likely to look to solve issues.
15)Ensure active listening
This is definitely a tough one when we are caught up in the daily routine. However, as teachers, we must be attentive and engaged in what students are trying to communicate. Try to avoid multi-tasking and always maintain eye contact with children. Another important factor is that we shouldn’t interrupt the child to give advice till the children have finished explaining the whole situation. Be sincere when helping the students manage their emotions.
16) Build a “calm corner” to chill out in the room
A small space in the room that gives children a small space to escape and calm themselves can be highly beneficial for emotional regulation. Decorate the space with calming colours such as blues and greens to lift children’s mood. Pick out relaxing furniture with lots of pillows so children can release their stress. Don’t forget to label the corner with ourcute calm corner banner. Add some sensory toys, bubbles, or manipulatives such as sensory bottles or fidget toys as distractions to distract themselves.
17) Classroom Yoga
Yoga is a fun mindfulness activity that not only helps children regulate emotions but also assists them in becoming more aware of their feelings. This experience will help teach children to remain focused and embrace the present time. Yoga also promotes positive mental health and will help reduce any stress and anxiety a child might be feeling. Don’t forget to use ouryoga pack in your routine! The pack consists of sixteen yoga cards with step-by-step instructions and a demonstration of the pose with the pet creature, perfect for helping children calm down and stretch their bodies.
18)Be open to real talk and discussing emotions
There may be some days in which you have to have confronting and sensitive conversations with children to guide them on the right track. Jumping to conclusions will not help in solving the problem. Instead, offer different perspectives and options for children to develop their mindset and problem-solving skills. It’s important to stay both open-minded and authentic, so children develop a sense of comfort.
19) Look for teachable moments throughout the day
If you notice a child is distressed at any point in time, guide them to express what they are feeling. Acknowledge that you are there to help support them and will listen if they feel comfortable sharing their emotions. Maintain confidentiality by speaking to children independently without creating too much of a scene. Children may feel embarrassed if they are called upon in the middle of class activities.
20) Use play-based methods to teach emotional regulation
Emotional regulation skills can be taught informally through play-based and hands-on methods. Games such as ‘Simon says’ and ‘red light green light’ help children understand impulse control in which they have to think before reacting. You may also like to use ‘sometimes I feel playdoh mats’ along with clay or playdoh so children can get creative and create different feelings. Another enjoyable resource to use in the classroom is theemotions discussion spinnerwhich can be used to discuss various situations in which children have felt a particular emotion.
21) Promote partner and group learning
Working together with others can help students develop important socio-emotional skills such as flexibility, problem-solving, listening, communication and conflict resolution. Sharing and understanding different perspectives is an important aspect of social-emotional learning.
22)Celebrate children’s mistakes
When children worry about making too many mistakes, the stress and anxiety can be difficult to manage. An extremely valuable lesson to teach students is that making mistakes is perfectly normal, and they help us to grow. If children have built strong emotional resilience, they will be able to respond to errors more flexibly and confidently. We must assist children in becoming resilient enough to deal with setbacks and mistakes positively.
23)Try some breathing exercises
When children are taught to take control of their breathing, they will then be able to learn how to redirect the flow of their emotions. Focusing on breathing increases self-awareness and helps to release tension. Practicing breathing exercises regularly can help reduce any stress or anxiety children feel. Additionally, it can help retain attention, so children remain focused. Be sure to check out ourbreathing boards which are great visual reminders showing children how to take a breath.
24)Build a word wall
In some circumstances, children may feel so distressed that they cannot express themselves. A word wall can help in labelling emotions and help children describe exactly what they are feeling.
25) Redirect children to another task if they are upset
When children feel frustrated or have any negative emotions, you can try calming them down by redirecting their focus to another task. Try not to make it seem like a punishment but rather some extra help you need in the classroom. You might also like to offer a colouring activity or quick word search for children, which can help divert their minds.
26)Use role-play to create different scenarios
As mentioned above, the creative arts are a fantastic way for children to express themselves. Especially in the early years, pretend play gives children the chance to practice experiencing the associated feelings of a particular character according to their own terms. For older children, ask students to take on the role of a character in the book you might be reading. You can even ask children to act out practical life examples of emotional regulation and how to deal with particular situations, which will help them in their own lives if they ever have to face similar circumstances.
27)Place visual reminders around the classroom
Visual reminders such as posters serve as a great reminder for children about routine and emotional regulation. We have created an“I can be kind poster” with simple and easy to remember statements children can carry out to be kind to others. You can print it out in your desired size and discuss each of the statements with students. Another helpful resource is thelearning mood pack which comes in two versions. The single mood poster can be placed on any wall for children to simply identify and name different feelings. On the other hand, the interactive mood poster can be used in the morning. Students place their name on the particular mood they are feeling as they arrive.
28) Schedule brain breaks and exercise
Short brain breaks in between lessons can help to replenish children’s attention as they get a chance to reset. Learning a lot of content together can sometimes be frustrating for children and demotivate them from paying attention. Brain breaks don’t need to be complicated. Simple games and movement for 5-15 minutes can also help reduce stress levels. Exercise can also help burn energy and reduce meltdowns. Children with additional needs can really benefit from movement exercises.
Self-reflection provides a great opportunity for children to collect, record, analyse and review their performance in a particular task. Instead of the teacher showing them what is right and wrong, students get a chance to evaluate and correct themselves. Children can think about what they might be struggling with and ways to improve themselves, leading to better self-confidence.
30)Build Partnerships with families
A shared commitment between parents and teachers is needed to ensure children’s positive well-being. Many of the strategies above can easily be implemented at home so parents can share the same learning styles at home and things remain consistent for children. A child might show negative emotions because of something that occurred at home. Therefore, communicating with families is important to exchange information and work together in the best interest of the child.
For many children, school is the first significant source of social connections besides their families. Therefore, practicing these skills can help ensure both academic and life-long success. We hope these self-regulation activities benefit children in understanding emotions. Teachers should help guide and model these essential socio-emotional skills in informal ways so children are able to express themselves and cope better with challenging situations.