Teaching self-control in the classroom to students is quite arguably one of our biggest jobs as educators. Self-control is related to everything! We (hopefully) practice self-control when we wait in line at the store, choose what we eat, when something doesn’t go as planned, or when something unexpected happens. We practice self-control and self-regulation as part of our daily lives. Without it, our society would be a complete and utter mess. But for students, they are still learning what exactly self-control looks and feels like.
- Noticing when you are upset.
- Calming down.
- Finding ways to control your reactions.
While we may not always know how a student is feeling, we can often help them increase their self-awareness so that they can identify their feelings, and we can assist them in finding ways to cope with those emotions that work for them.
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Model and Praise
Model/label moments in which students are demonstrating self-control. Is a student standing in line quietly and calmly? Directly praise it and let them know they are demonstrating self-control! Is a student waiting patiently for their turn with classroom materials or with a game? Label their actions and notice how helpful they are by participating in the activity/classroom so cooperatively!
Deep breathing and Yoga
Teach various types of belly breathing or deep breathing strategies. These can be simple breaths where students put their hands on their belly and feel themselves breathing, or you can use a multitude of other breaths like Spiderman (make hands into “web-shooters,” take a deep breath in and as you exhale, pretend to shoot webs throughout the room). There are TONS of options depending on your students, so feel free to get creative!
Practice yoga as a class. Maybe utilize a short yoga video for a mindfulness break within your day. Practicing yoga can increase awareness of one’s body and calm or center students as they learn self-awareness and control.
Morning Meeting Check-in
Create a check-in chart as part of your morning meeting. Use a visual scale to check in on how the students are feeling and if there is anything you or they can do to help themselves if they are feeling stressed or angry. This may require some discretion on your part, depending on your students. If you think some students are more likely to share sensitive information related to how they are feeling, you may consider a small dropbox where students write down their name and how they are feeling/anything that’s going on that day and place it in the box for you to view only. In that same regard, consider a virtual option where students check-in and respond to a series of questions that only you see the responses to. Checking in at the beginning of the day can often set the tone for heightened self-awareness and better opportunities to teach and practice self-control. Or, check out the lesson below (Character Education Set on Self-Control), which is full of activities! Regardless of the activity you choose, morning meetings are an easily structured time to teach and practice skills related to self-control and self-regulation.
Calm Down Kit
Create a “calm-down kit” with items students enjoy. This isn’t a toy kit per say, consider it more of a tool kit full of calming activities - Playdoh or Theraputty, fidget items, soft or squishy toys/balls, etc. These might also include a headset to play soothing music or some kind of coloring activity. These kits can be customized based on students and based on what works for the classroom environment. The goal is simply to provide students options to help calm and regulate themselves as they become more aware of their emotional responses during the school day. You could also create a Calm Down Corner in your classroom, feel free to visit my previous blog post on How to set up a Calm Corner in your classroom for ideas on how to do this.
Class activities and games
Teaching self-control in the classroom can be fun! One of my favorite activities is to create a Self-Control Strategies Wheel for the class. Have students develop ways to regulate themselves in the classroom - i.e., take a deep breath, squeeze an item from the calm down kit, take a break in another area of the room, etc.
Play games in the classroom that require practicing self-control. For example, you could use freeze games (i.e., put on some music, have students dance, and then freeze when the music stops or says to freeze). This can also be done by playing a stop/go game in which they have to follow instructions and stop when you say to stop an action, and then wait to continue until you say GO!
I’ve used this sorting activity to promote making good choices in the classroom.
Using videos and read-alouds
Always an option for teaching self-control in the classroom is read alouds! Check out this blog post about Children's books that teach Self-control. Here are a few highlights of my favorites:
My Mouth is a Volcano By: Julia Cook
An empathetic and engaging book that teaches children how to manage their thoughts and words. This book is perfect for young learners with its colorful images and witty approach.
Clark the Shark By: Bruce Hale
This book is a story of a shark whose rowdiness needs to be tamed to make and keep friends - this book is excellent for young learners as they learn self-control and awareness, especially at school.
When Sophie Gets Angry - Really, Really Angry By: Molly Bang
When Sophie Gets Angry - Really, Really Angry is a kid-friendly, engaging book about what can happen when your anger takes control. Perfect for a read-aloud or group discussion with your students!
How to Be a Superhero Called Self-Control By: Lauren Brukner
How to Be a Superhero Called Self-Control is a book that teaches children how to manage their feelings and emotions. It gives tons of examples of how to cope with big feelings and actions to take to maintain control over them.
Cookie Monster Practices Self-Regulation - Cookie Monster helps to demonstrate and explain self-regulation in a tempting situation!
Be the Pond (Cosmic Kids Zen Den - Mindfulness for Kids) - This short mindfulness video explains, in simple, fun, kid-friendly terms, how to separate our feelings so we don’t get carried away by them.
Learning About Self Control by Michael Mills - Check out this cute video featuring Pete the Cat as he learns about self-control in his familiar, rhythmic way!
Self-Control for Kids: Character Education - learn strategies for teaching self-control in this short, superhero-themed video!
This list is not by any means exhaustive but should provide a few ideas to get you going. Self-control is an ongoing skill that we continue to practice throughout our lives, and it’s a critical foundational skill for our students. Spending just a little bit of time and devoting a little bit of energy towards teaching the skills leading to and related to self-control can make a world of difference with our students, not just during our class time but throughout their environments.
I hope you were able to take away several tips and strategies for teaching self-control in the classroom. Which one from the list is your favorite to use in your classes?