Our students have a lot going on inside and outside of school. Our students might be undergoing trauma, stress, and anxiety. To support the social and emotional well-being of our students, we must teach and provide space for students to learn how to self-regulate.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines self-regulation as, “the ability to successfully regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in different situations — effectively managing stress, controlling impulses, and motivating oneself.”

Our goal is to normalize stress, anxiety, frustration, and the overall idea that, “It is OK to not be OK.”

As such, we need to also teach our students that there are various coping strategies and acknowledge that we all will use different techniques to self-regulate. We want our students to learn how to use the strategy that will help them handle their emotions so that they can do their best learning in our classrooms.

By allowing students a few moments to use their coping technique when needed, they can learn how to transition back to participating as a productive classroom citizen. Just as we would provide students explicit instruction on academic content, we want to provide explicit instruction and expectations with the various coping strategies we allow students to use to regulate emotions.

For younger students, I recommend beginning by modeling and sharing just a few choices; for older students, let them try out a few to see which technique will support them with self-management. All students benefit from clear expectations, areas of the classroom that allow for various self-regulation techniques, and time to discuss and reflect on their chosen strategy and how it helped them self-regulate various emotions.

This list below is not an exhaustive list of coping strategies but a great starting place to provide students choice to self-regulate based on their respective moods and emotions.

Calming Techniques

  • Deep breathing with a pinwheel
  • Deep breathing with bubbles
  • Deep breathing with prompts
  • Deep breathing shapes
  • Deep breathing with a favorite toy
  • Deep breathing with a feather
  • Deep breathing monitoring your pulse with your hand
  • Explosion breaths
  • Hands to shoulders
  • Hoberman sphere
  • Volcano breaths and check your air
  • Focus on sounds
  • Take a mindful yoga break
  • Imagine your favorite place
  • Have a mindful snack break
  • 54321 grounding technique
  • Grounding self-talk about the present
  • Think of your favorite things
  • Picture the people you care about
  • Say the alphabet slowly/backwards
  • Remember the words to a song you love
  • Run water over your hands
  • Toss/squeeze a squishy ball
  • Touch things around you — velcro strip, porcupine pen, etc.
  • Make a fist and then release it
  • Progress muscle relaxation
  • Positive self-talk (provide visual stems examples/talk bubbles)
  • Take a drink of water
  • Counting to 5 or 10
  • Block out sounds with noise-cancelling headphones
  • Watch a lava lamp or sand timer
  • Plow a miniature Zen sand garden
  • Shake a glitter/calming jar
  • Use your senses
  • Trace a pattern or therapeutic color book

Distraction Techniques

  • Write a story/poem about the issue or solving the problem
  • Crossword/Sudoku/game
  • Write about an act of kindness to you, or one you want to share
  • Creative thinking
  • Create your own problem/question for content material
  • Write about a fun event
  • Laughter (watch 30 seconds of something funny)
  • Sort something (blocks, straws, etc.)
  • Learn something new
  • Count backwards from 100
  • Repeat a mantra, “I am calm.”
  • Blow bubbles
  • Sing a song
  • Squish some putty/clay
  • Gratitude journaling
  • Rock in a rocking chair

Physical Techniques

  • Squeeze something
  • Use a stress ball
  • Shred paper
  • Pop bubble wrap
  • Use a sand tray
  • Climb steps
  • Hold and toss a small stone
  • Shuffle cards
  • Make something
  • Use a fidget
  • Walk
  • Roll a golf ball under your feet
  • Push against a wall
  • Dance or pace in marked area of the classroom
  • Punch a safe surface or air
  • Swing on a swing
  • Chant or sing (flocabulary.com)
  • Brain break (gonoodle.com)
  • Stretch
  • Yoga
  • Crinkle tissue paper
  • Take a coloring break
  • Fold up like a pretzel
  • Hop like a bunny

Our goal is to provide our students with the tools and techniques they need to focus and pay attention, keep their emotions in check, adjust to change, and handle the frustration that is sometimes a part of interacting with others or learning something new.