Higher Order Processing Skills to Improve Resilience

When you look closely at the Stepping Stone School learning plans, you will see a set of parentheses under each activity in which teachers communicate the purpose of each activity.  We call these descriptive words our “Purpose Notations.”

As a teacher, I often used the purpose notation “self-regulation” interchangeably with “self-control.” Not really understanding the differences.

Recently, I read an article describing the differences written by Professor Emeritus and author, Stuart Shanker, “self-regulation is what makes self-control possible, or, in many cases, unnecessary.” Looking at his definitions:

Self-control demonstrates an ability to restrain strong impulses.

Self-regulation is a decrease in the frequency and intensity of strong impulses by managing stress and recovery.

Shanker goes on to state,

“What Self-Regulation teaches a child is a foundational set of skills: not just how to deal with a deluge when it happens, but more important, how to prevent the deluge in the first place, by recognizing when they are becoming over-stressed and why, and what to do about it.” (Shanker, 2016)

Self-regulation enlists higher order thinking processes to allow a child or adult to step back, evaluate, and respond appropriately in a given situation.

Self-regulation begins with teaching children how to manage their emotions by providing them with strategies to use to overcome stress and encouraging them to persist in challenging situations.

  1. Label and recognize feelings. From earliest ages, parents and teachers can support children by identifying and talking to them about their feelings and then assist them as they recover from strong emotions.  Being a soothing and responsive caregiver enables a child to self-regulate.  Try singing softly, gently swaying with the child, or dimming the lights to pacify young children.
  2. Teach acceptable behavior. In the moment, a child may not be calm enough to retain anything you try to teach about behavior. Once a child has regained composure, a child may be calm enough to retain information.  Teach your children to reflect on the situation and problem solve together by thinking of other ways to handle a similar situation in the future.  Provide personal example stories about how you overcame in similar situations.
  3. Plan ahead. Going into new situations like a first time to a new school or visiting a doctor’s office, it is beneficial to read stories about a new experience and to role play how you can respond to a given situation.  When children think through how they should act, they are much more likely to recognize and choose appropriate responses.
  4. Teach patience. Patient waiting describes an attitude about waiting.  To promote a positive attitude, practice breathing exercises (Pretend to blow out birthday candles on your fingertips or pretend to blow up a balloon in your hand), do body exercises like stretching or pretending to have “sticky hands” (press hands together hard for 20 seconds and then slowly allow them to come apart).  These activities provide a calming effect which lowers stress levels and can keep children calm while waiting for longer periods of time.
  5. Teach persistence. Challenges arise daily no matter your age. Teaching children resilience amid life’s challenges leads to success throughout life.  Begin teaching positive self-talk (child states, “I can’t.”  Caregiver states, “maybe not yet, but you will.”)  Have the child write a list of things he or she can accomplish.  Use this list for building confidence and reminding the child of many of things he has already learned.

Would you like more ideas?  Our Platinum Learning for Life™ curriculum provides self-regulation activities  our teachers use in the classroom weekly.  Keep an eye out for the purpose notations listed on your child’s learning plan and ask your child’s teacher to share the specific ideas and activities being used to teach self-regulation.  Look at the Communities of Character™ parent board this month for additional ideas along with a suggested book list to teach self-regulation at home.

Remember these skills develop gradually over time.  Maintain developmentally appropriate expectations for the growth in your child’s behavior.



Florez, I. (2011, July). “Developing Young Children’s Self-Regulation through everyday experiences.” Young Children. P 46-51.  Retrieved from https://www.earlychildhoodireland.ie/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Self-Regulation_Florez_OnlineJuly20111.pdf


GreatSchools Staff. (1999). “Teaching Elementary Schoolers Self-Control.” Retrieved from http://www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/teaching-self-control-3rd-though-5th-grade/

Markham, L. (2015, June 11). “8 Steps to Help Your Child Develop Self Control.”  Retrieved from https://www.ahaparenting.com/_blog/Parenting_Blog/post/Help_Your_Child_Develop_Self_Control/


Shanker, S. (2016, Jul 11). Self-Reg: Self-Regulation vs. Self-Control: The reason for the profound differences lies deep inside the brain.  Retrieved from


Zero to Three. (2014). “Teaching Your Child Discipline and Self-control.” Retrieved from https:// main.zerotothree.org/site/PageServer?pagename=ter_key_social_selfcontrol


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