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Five Steps for Preschooler Self-Regulation at Home and at School

As a teacher in the classroom, parent teacher conferences were always a highlight of my experience. I enjoyed talking with parents, and learning more about the children in my care from the perspective of those closest to that child. Last week was a joy, as I watched teachers and parents come to school with the same eagerness I remember from years ago. Our teachers shared anecdotes, illustrations, and photos of LANK children engaging with class friends, participating in both favorite activities and those that are challenging, as well as examples of daily likes/dislikes. At some point in the conference, the topic of self-regulation was surely discussed, as it continues to be vitally important for young children to practice at school. Many studies rank self-regulation as the best predictor of school success!

How can teachers/parents help nurture regulation in very young children? Children in this age range will undoubtedly cry without concern, grab a toy that someone else is using, or vent frustration out loud and with vigor. Our mission is to help find alternative outlets for these “big” feelings, so that our classrooms and homes are calm, safe, and lend themselves to learning. There are many strategies that are effective to scaffold self-regulation, but here are five wonderful ways we reinforce at school, and you can use these same strategies at home.

1) Breathing My mother used to tell me to count to “ten’ when I was upset or angry. This is similar! When we practice deep breathing with children, lots of pent up frustration, anger or sadness is released.

2) Modeling Dramatizations of real life experiences with puppets, dolls or flannel board cut-outs are very useful as teaching tools for little people. It is a great way to reinforce concepts like working cooperatively, or handling disappointments. Reading books that explore characters and emotions is another way to model. Lastly, and probably my favorite is for teachers and parents to talk about their own real life scenarios and share real feelings; “I was really mad….so I went for a jog, and I felt better!”

3) Positive Reinforcement It may sound cliché, but praising a desired outcome with consistency yields great returns. It also adds a peer group component that can be helpful.

4) Providing Choice

Adults like to have some say so. Little children are no exception. By providing reasonable choices, self-regulation becomes much easier. This degree of choice should also include somewhere for children to go when they are feeling overwhelmed. Most of our classroom spaces have a quiet corner, or cubby space for children to use as a retreat when they feel the need.

5) Labeling Feelings

When we help children give feelings a name; anger, frustration, bravery, sadness, loneliness, etc..we are providing children the language to use to solve problems or express themselves. We are basically inviting discussion! This week our four day afternoon class is working on an emotions unit - perfect for practicing the self-regulation skills necessary for school and home. Read more about labeling emotions here.


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