It is so important to teach our students strategies for self-regulation, but it is even more important this year. Students need to be taught these strategies and have the chance to practice them before they are needed. When a child is in an emotional crisis, they are not able to learn anything new, including a self-regulation strategy. When I taught my students these strategies, I modeled for my students how I have had many more hard feelings than usual because of Covid-19, like sadness, anger, frustration, etc. Students need to see adults modeling talking about their feelings and normalizing having hard feelings and having appropriate responses to them.
Deep breathing Self-Regulation Strategies
I teach my children a variety of deep-breathing strategies, because different children like different strategies. It’s important for children to have a whole toolbox of supplies they can use when they are upset or feeling like their body is moving too fast. Here are some of my favorites to teach them. If you want these cards, you can find them in my Fantastic Focusers and Worry Wizards social emotional curriculums.
Two of my favorite go-to strategies are the Breathing Ball and 5 Finger Breathing.
The breathing ball is a great resource to have in the classroom or at home. You can see a child in my class from last year using the breathing ball here. As the ball expands, the student takes a deep breath in and as they push the ball in, they let their breath out. As an opportunity to let everyone practice this, I like to use this as a morning meeting greeting (in pre-covid times). I pass the ball around the circle and give everyone a chance to breath in and out with the ball. After the child takes a turn, we all greet them good morning. Then I keep the ball in my control spot for children to use when they are upset.
You can watch me using the 5-Finger breathing with my students here. I love to use it at the start of a lesson when I notice children are extra wiggly, or chatty. This strategy is easily used for students, no matter the time or place. They can also do it in their lap during learning times without distracting anyone.
Body calming strategies
When students are upset, they need some strategies for calming their bodies. These are some of my favorites. Squeezing and tightening different parts of the body and then relaxing them are great strategies for really listening to your body and calming it down.
Get that energy out!
When children are feeling energetic and wiggly, they need strategies for getting those wiggles out. One great strategy is just a short walk around the classroom or taking a lap down their hallway. When students are taking a walk, you can give them things to carry for a little extra weight and input. My students like walking with laundry detergent jugs filled ½ or ¾ with water. Students can also do jumping jacks and wall push-ups. Wall push-ups are where students put their hands on the wall and do a vertical push-up.
Coloring and puzzles are also great strategies for students whose bodies are often running “too fast”. I like to have coloring pages, word searches, and mazes on hand for students like this. These are also great strategies for students with anxiety!
Get that energy up!
When students are feeling tired, they might not be in the best place to learn. We can teach them strategies to use when they notice their body feeling “slow”. I’ve noticed this is especially important for my remote students. They can take a quick walk or get a drink of water or a snack. Other nice ones from above are the chair push-ups and the fire hands.
Tools to help self-regulation
You really don’t need many tools to support students with their self-regulation. Less is more. We want students to be able to self-regulate whether or not they have a certain tool, wherever they are. However, there are a few tools I like to have in my classroom to keep in my control spot (again, this was pre-covid). These tools could be used once we are fully back in the classroom or at home. As mentioned earlier, I love my breathing ball. I also keep a weighted blanket, kinetic sand, theraputty, glitter jars, and discovery bottles on hand (all linked to my Amazon store for your convenience). I also love the sequin flip pillows but haven’t gotten any for my classroom yet!
Books to help self-regulation
I have many favorite social-emotional books, but it has been hard to find books for the specific goal of teaching self-regulation. I have linked my favorite books to my Amazon store here. My favorites are Winston Wiggles, I have ANTS in my PANTS, Personal Space Camp, Be Where Your Feet Are, and Listening to my Body. There are also great resources for mindfulness and deep breathing strategies. For this, I love I am Peace, Breathe like a Bear, My Magic Breath, and B is for Breathe.
Our students need, now more than ever, strategies for self-regulation. They need to be explicitly taught them and given time to practice them, before they are really needed. We should teach them many different strategies and show them different books and tools, so that everyone can find a strategy or two that really helps them.
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