Self-Regulation for Kids

Self-regulation is defined as control of oneself by oneself. Andrea Bell from Good Therapy defines good emotional self-regulation, as someone who “has the ability to keep their emotions in check. They can resist impulsive behaviors that might worsen their situation, and they can cheer themselves up when they’re feeling down. They have a flexible range of emotional and behavioral responses that are well matched to the demands of their environment”. (2016)

There are two different types of self-regulation, behavioral and emotional. Behavioral regulation refers to the ability to act in your long-term best interest and consistent with your own values. When you get up and go to school even though you’re dreading it you’re using behavioral self-regulation. Emotional regulation involves control or at least influence of your emotions. If you have ever talked out loud to yourself when you are in a bad mood to help calm yourself down you were practicing emotional self-regulation.

This psychologist Stuart Shanker differentiates self-control from self-regulation by identifying self-control as about inhibiting strong impulses while self-regulation is about reducing the frequency and intensity of impulses as well as managing stress load and recovery. Self-regulation and self-control have a symbiotic relationship where self-regulation makes self-control possible. (2016)

Self-regulation is important for our well-being. A study from 2016 shows that adolescents who regularly engage in self-regulatory behavior report greater well-being than their peers, including enhanced life satisfaction, perceived social support, and positive affect (good feelings). It also found that those who suppressed their feelings instead of addressing them head on experience lower well-being, including greater loneliness, more negative affect (bad feelings), and worse psychological health overall. This study highlights the importance of helping to teach kids self-regulation. Self-regulation as a practice and giving kids tools to practice is an important part in showing them how to care for their well-being. Below are 50 self-regulation coping strategies students can use at school.

When I feel upset, sad, or unfocused at school I can:

  1. Imagine a peaceful and calming place
  2. Push against a wall as hard as I can and then relax my body
  3. Squeeze a stress ball
  4. Breathe, as I zoom my attention to my breathing I will take extra long out breaths
  5. Ask to deliver books to the library or another class
  6. Roll my neck and shoulders
  7. Think of at least three things I am grateful for
  8. Squeeze my fist together as hard as I can, hold, then relax my hands
  9. Use I statements to express how I am feeling, what I need, or what I hope for
  10. Doodle, draw, or color
  11. Count to 10 and back in coordination with my breath
  12. I asked my teacher for help if I feel upset or overwhelmed
  13. Ask to work with a buddy
  14. Invent a secret hand signal with my teacher that communicates I need help
  15. Tell my teacher I would like to help or take on a classroom responsibility
  16. Place my hands over my ears and breathe slowly and deeply, listening to the sound that my breath makes
  17. Stretch
  18. Move away from the distraction or person who is bothering me
  19. Write down my thoughts or questions if my teacher can’t address them right away
  20. Squeeze a stress ball or use another teacher approved fidget
  21. Volunteer to help clean or organize the classroom
  22. Drink water
  23. Tell myself a positive affirmation or mantra
  24. Ask permission to take a short walk down the hallway or up and down the stairs, and then return
  25. Rest my head on my desk for a moment or two
  26. Listen to calming music with headphones
  27. Remind myself it’s OK to make a mistake
  28. Read in a quiet spot
  29. Journal or write a letter
  30. Push palms together
  31. Visualize a person who supports me and cheers me on
  32. Take a 3 to 5 minute break in the designated classroom peace corner
  33. Ask my teacher to break down the assignments into smaller chunks so it’s not so overwhelming
  34. Think of or write a list of three positive things in my life
  35. Zoom in on my senses. Noticing 5 things I see, four things I feel, three things I hear, two things I smell, and one thing I taste
  36. Slowly trace my hand with my finger breathing in as I trace my fingers going up, and breathing out as I trace my fingers going down
  37. Use a break card to let my teacher know I need a break and then use a timer to remind me when to return
  38. Rub my temples
  39. Do an act of kindness
  40. Eat a snack or tell my teacher I am hungry
  41. Ask for permission to quietly jog in place for a minute or do 20 jumping jacks
  42. Give myself or a stuffed animal a great big hug
  43. Cross my arms in front of me and do an arm pretzel
  44. Help a classmate or my teacher
  45. Ask if I can do my work standing up
  46. Talk with my school counselor
  47. Go outside during recess and notice the sky, trees, and sounds from nature
  48. Give myself an arm or hand massage
  49. Tell my teacher I need help with the assignment or lesson
  50. Devise a secret code word or signal with my teacher that means time to get back on track

These strategies are geared toward kids, however, if you’re an adult at an office job this may be helpful for you too. We all need practice and tools to manage difficult emotions. If this resonated with you or you would like to learn more about self-regulation for yourself or someone you care about please contact Life Enhancement
Counseling Services at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced mental health counselors.



Arielle Teets