Did you know that children’s ability to control their emotions and behavior is a better predictor of academic success than IQ scores? Self-regulation allows children to focus their attention so they can acquire the skills they need to succeed in school. They can set age appropriate goals and work steadily to achieve them.
Many children learn to self-regulate within the context of family life. Others enter school lacking effective strategies for managing their feelings and behavior. These children benefit from classroom interventions that teach them how to recognize and manage their reactions to stress.
Start by teaching children about the many ways the body protects itself from danger- our immune system protects us from illness. Our eyes have lids that close automatically to keep out foreign particles. And our brains have a warning system that alerts us to danger. We know the alarm system is activated when our muscles tense up, our breath gets shallow, and we have butterflies in our stomach. We are prepared to protect ourselves from harm.
The problem is that sometimes our body sends out false alarms. Something triggers a stress response when there is nothing to be afraid of. This is a common problem for children exposed to toxic stress. Teaching them to manage feelings of persistent fear or hyper-arousal is an important step in helping them acquire self-regulation.
Here are some strategies you can try:
- Teach children how to use a cognitive “brake” to determine whether the signals they are getting from their body match what is going on in the environment. Children can learn to use their brains to monitor their physical reactions by using keyword strategies such as SOLD:
Stop what you are doing.
Observe how you are feeling.
Look at whether your feelings match what is going on.
Decide how you will behave.
- Lend children an emotional helping hand. Be willing to actively help children manage stressful and distressing situations that are beyond their resources to handle alone.