Teaching Self Regulation in 5 Easy Steps

Ethan had spent the entire center time working on a puzzle.  He was within a few pieces of finishing it when I heard tones of frustration. Asking him about the challenge he was facing, he pointed to the edge of the puzzle.  The corner area kept coming apart and the three pieces he had left were not fitting in where he thought they should go. I could tell his frustration was beginning to turn to anger, so I sat down with him and asked him to take a big breath and explain what was happening.  We worked together to make the adjustments needed by shifting the pieces on the corner.

“They’re not coming apart anymore,” he exclaimed! He easily slipped the last few pieces into their correct places just in time for us to move onto the next activity!

Children often need guidance from caring adults to help them regulate their emotions and help them appropriately think through the situation to generate a positive outcome.

This month at Stepping Stone School, we will be reading stories, planning focused activities, and thinking about self-regulation as a part of our Kindness and Empathy™ curriculum.

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 the earliest ages, caregivers can support children by identifying and talking to them about their feelings and then assisting them as they recover from strong emotions.  Being a soothing and responsive caregiver enables a child to learn and practice self-regulation.  Try singing softly or gently swaying with the child to help them to feel calm.
  2. Teach acceptable behavior. In the heat of the moment, is not the time to try to teach a child about acceptable behavior.  However, once a child has regained composure, a child may be calm enough to retain information.  Teach children to reflect on the situation and problem solve together with her 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 visiting a doctor’s or dentist’s office, it is beneficial to read stories about a new experience and role play what it will be like in 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 day to day challenges leads to success throughout life.  Begin teaching positive self-talk (if the child states, “I can’t.”  The caregiver states, “maybe not yet, but you will.”)  Have the child write or talk through what things he can accomplish.  Use this list for building confidence and reminding the child of the many things he has already learned.

From puzzles to social relationships and academic endeavors, when children learn to regulate their own emotions, they can be successful in all aspects of their life.


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




Age Groups:

Advanced Pre-K

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