Teaching Emotional Regulation as a Behaviour Strategy
The ability to regulate our emotions should not be presumed, emotional regulation is a skill and needs to be learned, sometimes through explicit instruction. Recognising your own emotions and identifying effective strategies for managing these is a key skill for any child. For those who require additional skill teaching around managing their own emotions Systems such as emotion works and Zones of Regulation are great. I won’t repeat their systems here but they are both widely used ad effective strategies.
I think it is unhelpful to label emotions negative or positive as all are reactions to interactions or events occurring around or to you. Many of the responses to emotions in young people are shaped by their needs, communication skills or background, including potential trauma and abuse. Teachers need to be mindful of this and the impact it will have on the child reactions to certain situations. Some emotions are specifically designed to keep you safe (fear) so additional work may be better focussed on desensitisation or applying a functional and clear method of escape – The symbol above is a simple example of this. The child can use it to immediately end an activity, food tasting, game etc. I believe symbols and cards like this are essential even for students who can verbalise requests. In times of stress, expressive language skills can be impaired so grabbing a symbol can reduce potential “challenging behaviour” by easily communicating a need to exit the situation.
I have just discovered this book No Worries! Mindful Kids: An activity book for young people who sometimes feel anxious or stressed by Dr Sharie Coombes This is the excellent little resource which has a number of self-regulation strategies the child can start to use to reduce anxiety.
I wanted to share here some of the approaches I have used with the autistic students I have worked with. All of these need to be highly personalised and be ready to adapt. The following Top Tips are things I have tried and found effective I would love to hear your tips and experiences in the comments.
Top Tips for Teaching Emotional Regulation.
- Use emotional vocabulary all the time- identify and name the emotion you see or feel.
- The context of the emotion is as important as the behaviour that stems from it
- Teach coping strategies when the child is at their baseline stress level.
- Practice emotional regulation strategies regularly.
- Model the positive behaviours you want to encourage.
- Simple Strategies are best, however be ready to get creative.
- Ensure all adults honor their side of all agreed responses.
- Create a safe space to develop these skills – A Zero Tolerance Classroom is not going to work.
- Link known triggers to functional responses.
- Give emotional regulation time to work (At least a fortnight of consistent application)
- You need to be the child’s emotional brakes when teaching these skills.
These, as well as thermometers, can be a valuable tool in promoting self-regulation and teaching coping strategies. Download this Emotion Levels Chart to complete with the child with strategies. This version is for older children/adolescents
Emoji Emotions Free Worksheets
Okay, this is a bit gimmicky but the idea of using emoji’s is to link with aspects of online safety lessons. We introduced emoji’s because we also use widgit symbols of the emotion faces as they are very similar in appearance. More and more often our children are called on to be able to decode hidden meaning in messages through using this quite accessible system.
Download the Free Emoji Emotions 3 worksheet bundle including matching and the checklist. To use the checklist I hid emoji’s around the room and they were checked off as the children found them.
My Little Worry book.
This post contains a great little resources for emotional regulation that I made last year “My Little Worry Book“.
Thank you for taking the time to read. I would love to hear your comments.