For many children who have a history of ACEs, or adverse childhood experiences, learning can be a challenge and teaching self-regulation to young students may be difficult.
Is teaching self-regulation to young students important?
With the support of excellent discipline and co-regulation in your teaching style, however, encouraging children in need of assistance can be consistent, practical and functional. In many cases, these children will require assistance in learning coping strategies and regulating their nervous system, as well as helping them to develop and better understand the consequences of their actions.
As with math or reading, teaching our students to have better control and management of their behavioral and emotional skills is a must. Children with ACEs can find themselves in an education environment with little past experience of emotional regulation or impulse control. As such, they can struggle with some functional skills such as maintaining focus or paying attention. Developing these skills is essential for our students to succeed socially, academically and emotionally.
The below strategies are aimed at Tier One in the Response to Intervention model, specifically for both discipline and engagement. While co-regulation is essential for every student, they are particularly beneficial for students in these unique circumstances. Incorporated into routines, bell work, procedures and more, these transitions can soon become second nature with co-regulation and these preventative strategies.
Teaching self-regulation areas to cover include:
- Teaching self regulation in the classroom
- Teaching emotional regulation skills
- Self regulation activities for toddlers
- Self-regulation examples
- Self regulation strategies
- Areas of self regulation
Strategies for helping young students regulate their responses
1. Incorporate rhythm
Rhythm is an everyday part of life. From our heartbeats to how we live, sleep and breathe, rhythm is as natural to the human body as it is to music. When these rhythms aren’t in place, our motor or sensory systems can become compromised.
Modelling rocking movements before rest or before nap-time, or even during the transitional period, can be a vital skill. Children are able to follow teachers in this natural swaying or rocking motion, set to gentle music or soft speaking. This movement promotes calm and focus and prepares students for quieter times within the day.
Rhythm may also be introduced by encouraging children to follow a pattern of sound, using paint or drumsticks to mimic a teacher. This can be varied in speed, volume or even altered according to the introduction of body movements. Helping students learn the difference between rhythm and beat can also be beneficial.
Listening to the beat of music is another way to incorporate rhythm, allowing children to draw with a crayon according to the beat – creating colors or shapes that represent the ‘size’ of the beat on paper.
2. Have students take a sensory bath
A class favorite in many educational settings with ACE children, this activity involves placing three to four children in one space with access to loofahs, towels and lotion. This action mimics a bath and allows children to pretend to clean or wash themselves in this sensory bath using the provided loofah, or an adult, depending on preference. Sensory rooms are popular for use with students, and the bath is one variation of this.
This activity can first be modeled by the teacher ‘stepping’ into the sensory bath. Following the action up with a song, such as “We’re taking a brain bath, a brain bath, a brain bath / We’re taking a brain bath to help us feel _____,” allows students to insert their own sensations into the song. This could be anything from happy to fresh, clean to peaceful, or any other appropriate words. Following the song and bathing actions, children are encouraged to step out of the sensory bathtub carefully.
After these actions are completed, each child is wrapped tightly with their own beach towel, continuing to mimic a bath time routine. Children are encouraged to rock side to side or back and forth, and everyone continues to sing during this time – changing the song from the bathtub to drying off and preparing for the day.
Once this is complete, students can choose if they would like one drop of hand lotion that they can massage into their hands. The activity is finalized with three deep breaths before they return to the school setting to start their day of learning. Actively addressing and helping children regulate their nervous systems through these sensory and motor functions can provide the perfect start to the day, leaving children ready to learn.
3. Use a singing bowl
Calming and easy to use, the Tibetan singing bowl can be one of the best morning activities for a child’s nervous system. Designed as a patterned and repeating activity that works alongside the rhythms and sense of the body, children are encouraged to listen to the sounds created by the bowl, and then collectively must try to match the sounds produced.
Often used as a morning circle time activity, once students have all listened to the sound and three deep breaths have been taken, each child will take turns playing the bowl and matching the music produced. This is combined with increasing breathing to six or so long inhales and exhales.
On occasion, students who are particularly sensitive to the sounds produced when playing the bowl will close their eyes and listen until the tone is complete. When this occurs, the student raises their hands in the air. While some children may be more sensitive than others, it’s vital to monitor responses and behaviors to adjust the activity to work for the group as a whole.
4. Walk the lines
As breathing can calm the nervous system, movement can also be the ideal way to help students to focus and relax. One way to make use of motion is with a labyrinth style walking activity. Incorporating different footwork and animal-based walks, as well as a variety of shapes, lines and mazes, this activity requires focus and movement.
Children will model activities and walks performed by a teacher, including walking, hopping, crawling or skipping. For example, a teacher may monitor a crab walk along a significant area in the labyrinth, which the students can then mimic. Once the activity has been completed and mastered by the children several times, you can also involve them in producing their own patterns of movement to be mimicked.
Using this strategy of regulation offers a deeper insight into the motor skills of each student, including their balance and their finer movement. It also allows for a practical way to monitor the level of frustration and response to mistakes in each individual, allowing for corrections and support throughout each session.