How to teach Self-regulation

Many students enter our classrooms with psychological and learning problems, ADHD, and even adverse childhood experiences and traumas that affect their executive functioning and self-regulation. They don’t have the tools needed to focus to constantly check their emotions, adapt to changes, or deal with the frustration that sometimes accompanies interacting with others or learning new things.

This can make it very difficult to complete the required assignments in class. As a middle school special education teacher, I quickly discovered that for these students to learn, I had to develop their self-regulation skills first.

As a new teacher, you may also have difficulty teaching students effective self-regulation. These are some strategies that have worked for me.

Provide learning structures and tools

Teachers can set up their classrooms to provide the structure and learning tools needed to model and teach self-regulation.

  • Positive environment: The classroom should be a safe space that emphasizes strengths. If problem behavior occurs, try not to confront or correct your child immediately. Instead, act as an observer, to find out why the behavior happened. Then address the behavior after the child cools down.
  • Clear expectations: Timetables, procedures, and established routines help students understand expectations and create an environment that feels structured and safe.
  • Study Skills Guide: As teachers, we often focus on lessons, but to access content, students need skills such as organizing materials, managing time, focusing on tasks, reading comprehension, and what they are learning for later use, and practicing graded activities. Teaching whole-class learning strategies will help all students learn more independently.

Scaffold Instruction

Sometimes when students seem distracted from work or even turn off and refuse to get work done, it’s because the work is too hard for them and they get frustrated. I’ve found that students use this behavior a lot because it’s worked for them in the past, allowing them to escape unnecessary tasks and avoid the embarrassment of looking “stupid”. Often, students do not realize that they are frustrated with the assignment but express to the teacher their frustration with letting him complete the assignment.

Scaffolding means breaking down learning into blocks and then providing a strategy or structure that makes it easier for students to complete each block of learning. To teach effectively, you need to know what your child can do on their own. This teaching starting point, known as the “Zone of Proximal Development” (ZPD), is the distinction between what learners can do on their own and what they can do with informed support.

Starting your course at this point makes it easier for students to move on to the next logical development step. If your child is struggling, you can often help them get started by pausing, seeing what they understand, and then modifying the task to fit their ZPD.

Discuss and Reflect

Children need objective, non-judgmental feedback to improve their behavior. When a problem arises, find a quiet time to discuss what went wrong, why, and how to handle it differently next time. This provides useful guidance for students who may not yet have the structure and vocabulary needed to regulate their emotions.

Once students are familiar with the process, they can also relax by doing some self-reflection through written activities before talking to the teacher. Reflection helps students become more attentive: Not only can they react to emotions, but they can learn to be managers of emotions by recognizing their feelings before they turn into action.

Model and practice appropriate behavior

Students usually learn best when you show them how to do things through direct instruction. The same applies to behavior. If students are not exhibiting productive behaviors, teachers can show them effective behaviors by demonstrating activities such as “thinking out loud” or role-playing.

Allow children time to practice the new behaviors they learn in a low-impact way, breaking down desired behaviors into achievable steps. As a homeroom teacher, I practice with a group of people to improve transitions by providing visual and auditory cues (flashing lights and clapping hands). The students knew they had to stop what they were doing and return to their place. First, I gave them a few minutes and rewarded the students who were in their seats, even if they were a little noisy on the way there. Gradually, I reduced the time allotted and rewarded only those students who sat quietly, listened to instructions, held out materials, and prepared for work.

I find that thinking about behavior objectively is a skill that needs to be taught, not just good or bad, and it has been very helpful in my ability to guide my children in learning to control their behavior. Some children go to school without the self-regulation skills necessary for academic success. We need to meet these kids where they are and teach them the skills they need to be successful in the classroom.

About the article

Many students enter our classrooms with psychological and learning problems, ADHD, and even adverse childhood experiences and traumas that affect their executive functioning and self-regulation. In this article, we discussed the ways to teach self-regulation.

Jack Marque

Digital Marketer with over 15 years of experience. Certified Digital Marketer and Educator by Google, HubSpot, and many other companies. An ex-employee @uber and @zomato

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