Students Who Struggle With Self-Regulation

I think a lot of students don’t know they struggle with self-regulation. Self-regulation is something teachers and parents need to teach students to do. I think it is a skill that students who have it mastered at at an earlier age, give them an advantage in a school setting. I thought it would be helpful to be able to recognize if a student is struggling with self-regulation and some of the strategies we can use to help them. It is interesting to see how other students perceive these “troublesome” students. During parent teacher conferences a few students has make reference about some students who disrupt their learning by acting out/blurting in class.

How to tell if a student is struggling with self-regulation 

Students who are struggling with self-regulation may:

  • Act overly silly or “out-of-control’
  • Throw tantrums or have melt downs
  • Blurts outs
  • Has difficulty waiting turns or waiting in general
  • Demonstrates disruptive behavior during social interactions such as talking too loud, standing in peoples bubbles, cant keep hands to themselves
  • Has difficulty walking silently or waiting in line
  • Moves abruptly
  • Grabs or touches objects impulsively

How to Help Students develop Self-Regulation 

I think anything involving games and hands on activities is a great way to incorporate self-regulation in the classroom. Games that help support students problem solve, plan,  memory, attention, motor control, and sequence will help them develop the skills needed for self-regulation.  Calming techniques are also a good way to create self-awareness and mindfulness in the classroom.

Games/Activities that Teach Self-Regulation 

  • Simon says
  • Deep breathing/ other breathing techniques
  • Freeze tag
  • Partner obstacle course
  • Musical Chairs
  • Jenga
  • Bop it
  • Yoga
  • Meditation for kids
  • Calming sensory activities such as blowing bubbles, cards, cooperative games, I-Spy, and scavenger hunts

Calming Sensory Strategies for the Classroom 

  • A quiet place and a way for students to signal they need a break
    • This could easily be put in place in the classroom, as basic as a corner with a comfortable chair, a tent, or canopy, anything that gives the student privacy. You also want the area to be fairly quiet to limit the inputs (auditory/visual) so the student can calm themselves, regroup, and then return to the class/.
  • Calming Tactile Input
    • Tactile sense is the way we interpret information from the the receptors on our skin. Our tactile system helps understand and differentiate pressures, textures of a certain object and helps us understand and determine what we are touching. It also helps us understand pain and temperature and how our bodies react to both.
    • This could look like a sensory bin that is filled with sand, rice, dried beans. Students would then run their hands in the bins and it provides a calming sensation for them.
  • Calming Oral Sensory Input
    • Chewing can help students calm down by chewing something like a bagel, sum, chewy caramel, fruit leathers. Or they can try sucking in a thick smoothie, or blowing light objects across a table.
  • Calming Auitory Input
    • When students are acting a little wild, a great way to calm them down is to quiet things down.
    • Playing calm music while students are working (raining, waves, oceans), this could help block out other auditory noises that maybe distracting to students.
  • Calming Visual Input
    • Too much visual stimulation may be distracting for some students
    • Somethings you can so are: Use natural lighting, de-cluster the classroom, lava lamps, sensory bottles/jars, or having shape of the day posted.
  • Calming Proprioceptive input
    • This is where the student is move their body or body part against heavy resistance
    • Stress balls, slime, chewing tough gum, pushing or moving heavy objects


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Self-Regulation: Reset

There are so many different strategies and activities that may or may not work for your class. Of course, one of the joys of being a teacher is to make sure your bag of tricks is fully stocked because of the variety of classes come across. I have categorized these activities into three categories: Reset, transitions, and calming. I will be talking about these three strategies through this post and my next. I was curious and thought it would be  useful to know how to set a student up for success after a tantrum. I stumbled upon some activities to do after a student threw a tantrum to “reset”. These reset activities help students successfully regain their independence in a calm way. These activities sooth the student by giving them a task that constructive and soothes their hands. At first it didn’t make sense to me, and then I thought about the little activities that adults do to calm themselves down that involves their hands such as squeezing a  knitting, sewing, playing cards, gardening) . When a student has aggressive outburst and may display signs of dangerous behavior it is important for the teacher to analyze the situation in which is it safer to move the child to a quiet area, or to remove the other students from the classroom. Reset activities are to be used AFTER the student has calmed down or AFTER the situation as deescalated. Keep in mind these activities may not work for every particular incident or tantrum.

A few guidelines to follow and think about:

  1. Knowing when to use them
    • not to be used during a outburst/tantrum, but AFTER
    • the child completes the activity at their desk and then can return to the classroom or working area when the activity is complete
    • depending on the student, the teacher would follow the activity with some sort of verbal/visual reminder of what is expected of them
  2. Reset activities should be short and simple
    • no longer then 5 mins
  3. Setting students up for success
    • make sure the activity is easy enough to complete without your help
    • the goal is for students to successfully, independently, and calmly self regulate themselves
  4. Choosing neutral appeal activities
    • not meant to be a reward, this would only reinforce bad behavior
    • like the second step keep them simple and basic
  5. Clear ending activities
    • student when know the activity is completed
    • this gives the teacher a clear signal that the student is ready to join the others

Reset activity ideas

  • Fabric marble maze – with any kind of fabric create a maze for he student to complete by roll a  marble through
  • Bead sort – give the student a handful of beads, the student is to sort them into categories (color, size, shape)
  • Card sort – shuffle a deck of cards and get the students to organize them (lowest to highest, suits , red cards/black cards
  • Puzzles
  • Sorting a bag of assorted pens and pencils
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Self-Regulation and the Zone’s of Regulation

I think a big part of incorporating self-regulation in the classroom, is making sure you set up your expectation and models up in the beginning of the school year. Making sure your students know what you expect from them, and what they should be expecting from each other. Of course, not every teacher decides that socio-emotional education is important, but if you were to decided to teach self-regulating, I think a step in the right direction is socio-emotional education. By teaching students the basics and making sure you model this “proper” behavior and how to recognize their behaviors and deal them. The Zone’s of Regulation is a key concept when teaching students about  self-regulation. Each zone has a color that corresponded to the emotions that they are feeling (Blue- sad, sick, tired, bored. Green – happy, calm, okay, ready to learn. Yellow- frustrated, wiggly, excited, losing control. Red- mad, terrified, out of control, yelling and hitting). By teaching students what each zone means and what their emotions/ feelings correspond to you will be able to incorporate the Zone’s of Regulation in to your classroom. One thing I saw during my observations at Georgia was a thermometer with the zones labeled, so the blue zone was on the bottom (indicating cold) and then the green zone was places directly above, and then the yellow and with red at the top (indicating hot). Each student had a clothes pin with their name on it and each morning they would attached their clothes pin to whatever zone they were  in.  The teacher also added a character to each zone from the movie, “Inside Out”. I thought this was a really good way to connect students to the Zone’s of Regulation, and help them get a better understanding of their emotions they were feeling in the classroom.  I also think its important that the teacher also uses the chart to demonstrate how they are feeling, and that even adults experience all kinds of feelings/ emotions that range all over the spectrum (or thermometer).


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Why is Self Regulation Important?

I decided to do my inquiry on self-regulating in the classroom because in my previous practicum I had a class with little or minimal  behavioral issues. Therefore I thought it would be important for me and my peers to understand why self-regulation is needed in the classroom,  and why it is a skill that is equally as important as academics. Personally, I have never had this issue nor have I ever noticed it while going to elementary school. However as I go on in this program I notice it become more apparent in the classrooms. So what is self-regulation is why is it so important in the classroom. Self-regulation is a learning process that helps students manage their emotions and behaviors in the classroom. I really stress the importance to teach students these skills in the primary level because it I think it can really benefit them and their classroom community. After watching this video, I thought back to myself, and realized that even some adults (and even in university) can not regulate their emotions properly in a classroom setting. Subsequently, I really do think that self-regulation can be a very difficult concept to grasp as a child.


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