Self-Regulation in the Classroom

In Chapters 1 and 2, we focused on the individual and how the individual can use their body and their cognition to regulate emotions. In this chapter, we will focus on environmental stressors and highlight how teaching self-awareness can foster emotional regulation among children.

Key Points

  • Self-regulation looks at how easily a child can deal with stressors and then recover (Shanker, 2013).
  • Teaching children self-awareness improves their self-regulation.
  • Teaching children about the different stressors that affect their emotions improves their self-regulation.

Some Theory...

What is Self-Regulation?

  • According to Shanker (2013), self-regulation looks at how easily a child can deal with stressors and then recover. Self-Regulation differs from Self-Control as it is not about impulse control, discipline, or compliance but rather it relates to an over-stretched nervous system.
  • Dr. Ida Florez (2011) describes human self-regulation as a thermostat as the thermostat turns on or off a heating or cooling system depending on what is needed.
  • Self-regulation helps humans to evaluate and compare their five senses and communicate with any number of systems (such as motor or language systems) to choose and carry out a response (Florez, 2011).
  • Both self-regulation and using a thermostat are active, intentional processes requiring an intentional decision and the device actively monitors environmental temperatures (Florez, 2011).

The Arousal Continuum

  • According to Shanker (2013), there are six arousal states that a child will move between to self-regulate: Asleep, Drowsy, Hypoalert, Calmly Focused and Alert, Hyperalert, Flooded. Children who are calm and alert can control their emotions, they are more understanding, and they can focus more effectively.

Three Key Steps to Self-Regulation

  • Reduce the child's overall stress level.
  • Teach children self-awareness (what calmly focused and alert feels like, what hypo- or hyper-aroused feels like).
  • Teach children strategies that they need to be calmly focused/alert and describe experiences that children may need to manage or avoid.

Stressors That Affect Children

  • Noisy environments
  • Visual stimulation
  • Strong smells
  • Malnutrition (junk food, sugar)
  • Lack of exercise
  • Fatigue

Signs of An Excessive Stress Load

  • Inability to focus or pay attention (even responding to his/her own name)
  • Difficulty completing simple tasks
  • Increased irritability
  • Impulsive and Distractible
  • A child may not be able to sit still

Shanker's (2013) Questions for Reflection

  • What can I do to support children in learning how to self-regulate?
  • What can I change in my environment to reduce children's stress levels?
  • How can I support children in recognizing when they are under- and over-stimulated?
  • How can I help children recognize what sorts of activities help them to become calmly focused and alert and what activities they need to limit?

Practical Suggestions: Ways to Reduce Stress in Children

  • Ensure they have a lot of sleep and ask parents to communicate with you if their child did not get enough sleep.
  • Eating healthy and nutritious snacks and meals at school while leaving unhealthy foods at home to be consumed in moderation.
  • Schedule daily physical activities beyond the physical education periods providing both indoor and outdoor exercise opportunities.
  • Keep the noise level lower by turning off unnecessary noises such as the radio and removing toys with auditory components.
  • Do not allow children to play freely and for long periods of time with technology.
  • Provide fidget toys and wiggle seats. Children can feel more comfortable if they are able to hold something and still be able to move around while sitting. The learning support or resource teachers should have access to some of these sensory items.



Shanker, S. Calm, Alert and Happy.Download pdf

Florez, I. R. (2011). Developing young children’s self-regulation through everyday experiences. Young Children, 66(4), 46-51.