Test-taking is a stressful occurrence that some students handle better than others. If you have one or more students who act out around test time you may feel like you are at your wits end! Tests are just one trigger of emotional outbursts but are perhaps the most common.

It’s important to be able to guide your students through stressful moments and help them to regulate their emotions without acting out.

Time and experience

It is important that teachers do not punish students who aren’t able to regulate their emotions properly, as this may be an area that is challenging for many. It takes time and life experience to learn how to properly regulate one’s emotions, and it is unfair to punish children for not yet having developed these skills. Prompts can be helpful in giving children a moment to collect themselves and regain their composure.

Consider using prompts such as:

  • Take a deep breath
  • Let’s just stop here for a minute and regroup


Many students also find it challenging to transition from one type of activity to another. This is another reason to have a structured classroom where children are able to get used to a routine and feel safe within its boundaries. On top of this, there are certain practices and methods that you can incorporate into your lessons to help your students learn more about emotional regulation.

Give students who have difficulty with transitions a little one on one time where you explain some helpful strategies and also allow them to talk about their difficulties. Even when they are not able to put how they are feeling into words, just knowing that you are there to listen to them can make an impact. Work on helping them pin down their triggers and work together to find some helpful strategies to achieve calm transitions both inside and outside the classroom.


Remind children that their emotions drive their behavior, not the other way around. It is not unusual for a child to feel like their emotions are uncontrollable and are just something or a feeling that just washes over them.

Once they begin to learn more about what causes these feelings, they can learn more about adaptive strategies. The first step, however, is to realize that they do in fact have some control over their emotions and how they handle them. This knowledge is an important part of providing them with a solid foundation on which to build their emotional health.

When children cannot feel in control of their emotions, the situation can spiral into even more behavioral issues. Helpful reminds and extra time spent with students who are having difficulty in this area can make all the difference in the world. Being able to successfully manage one’s emotions is a key part of healthy social interactions and interpersonal relationships.

When there is a time during class when a student becomes unsettled or begins to act out, stop the class for a moment. In a manner that doesn’t shame or embarrass the student, discuss how you understand why the situation is stressful and upsetting. After they know that you are treating them in a compassionate manner, invite the class to work with them to brainstorm ways that the transition could have been handled more successfully.

Children don’t like to feel like they’ve done something wrong and when they feel like they’ve disappointed their teacher and themselves they may become defensive and impenetrable. Do all that you can to make your classroom a safe space where the students can feel vulnerable and are able to ask for help when they need it.

Incorporate activities

Incorporate activities that illustrate the emotion/behavior connection into the classroom lesson plan. Think of a few examples that are stress-inducing that can occur outside of the classroom, such as thunderstorms or getting separated from a parent at the supermarket. Let the kids talk about times stressful situations have happened to them and how they reacted.

Next, talk about other ways that could react in situations where they feel scared. This allows them to gain a greater understanding of the connection between behavior and emotion and help them to gain insight into better managing their emotions.

It can be difficult for many children to grasp abstract ideas, so giving them concrete examples of the topic at hand is important. Explore and discuss emotional triggers and how sometimes they deal well with them and sometimes they don’t. Have them think about the factors that yielded different results and how to recreate the situations where they handled the triggers successfully. Helping children to alter their behavior without criticizing or punishing them is a challenge indeed, but one that is well worth the time and effort.

Practice patience

Recognize that it’s often the children who act out the most that are the ones struggling more. When you do your best to approach every situation, no matter how difficult, with patience, the outcomes can be much more positive. The more consistent you are, the more likely that the child will adopt positive behaviors that will become their new norm.

Of course, there may be instances where a student requires more intervention than you are able to provide. In such cases, it may be most helpful to call a meeting with the administrative team along with the parents in order to discuss the situation as well as possible strategies for change.