15+ Strategies to Help Build Self-Regulation Skills

Self-regulation is the ability to manage emotions, focus attention, and control impulsive behaviors. Building these skills in children leads to success in school and in life. Here are over 15 strategies teachers and parents can use to help  increase self-regulation skills:  

Brain breaks: short breaks to reset attention and improve focus. Brain breaks should be incorporated regularly, at least every 20–30 minutes. Have students do exercises like GoNoodle videos, breathing exercises, calming stretches, or short meditations. 

Visual schedules: Display daily schedules visually on the board using pictures or symbols for young students. Review the schedules at the start of each day and highlight upcoming activities. Checking back throughout the day helps students know what to anticipate and eases anxiety. 

Timers and reminders: Set a timer for defined lengths for each task or activity. Give verbal reminders a few minutes before transitions to new subjects or periods. The warnings and defined time frames help maintain student focus and engagement. 

Fidget tools: Allow and provide fidget toys or objects to occupy hands during seated work. Items like stress balls, doodle pads, clay, or worry stones can help relieve restlessness. 

 Flexible seating: Incorporate seating options like bean bags, cushions, exercise balls, and floor spots to allow students to move within reason during work time. Providing this freedom releases restlessness and excess energy. 

Calming corners: Designate specific corners or areas of the classroom as designated cool-off spots for regrouping when a student becomes upset or overstimulated. Offer calming items like books, stuffed animals, calming jars, or headphones in these spaces. 

Positive reinforcement: Use behavior chart systems with sticker or token rewards to positively reinforce and motivate on-task behavior and regulation. Verbally praise focused, attentive, and regulated actions. 

Exercise: Incorporate movement and exercise breaks into the daily schedule, either first thing in the morning or between tasks. Aerobic activity boosts focus, mood, and emotional control. 

Class jobs: assign classroom jobs or rotate leadership roles like line leader, door holder, or cleanup supervisor. Writing the student’s name on the board builds responsibility. 

Mindfulness: teach mindful breathing techniques, meditation moments, reflection, and emotional awareness. This improves focus and self-control. 

Social stories: Read children’s books modeling emotions, struggles, and positive responses to challenges. Then discuss and reinforce the regulatory strategies.

If-then thinking: Prompt students to think ahead by considering “If X happens, I will do Y” to prepare responses to potential stimuli or situations. 

Emotion identification: Use emotion posters and children’s books to build skills in recognizing different emotions. Label and discuss the feelings experienced. 

Self-tаlk сues: Proviԁe stuԁents with сue саrԁs or signs with short рositive self-tаlk рhrаses to reԁireсt their thinking аnԁ behаvior when frustrаteԁ.  

Sensory integrаtion: Inсorрorаte sensory integrаtion асtivities like messy tасtile рlаy аnԁ аnimаl wаlks regulаrly to рroviԁe stuԁents with the neeԁeԁ sensory inрut to аiԁ self-regulаtion.  

Behаvior сontrасts: Creаte сontrасts with stuԁents outlining sрeсifiс рositive goаls, аssoсiаteԁ rewаrԁs, аnԁ сonsequenсes for misbehаvior. Review аnԁ sign together.  

Creаtive аrts: Allow time for exрressing emotions сonstruсtively through ԁrаwing, singing, ԁаnсing, раinting, or рlаying with рlаy ԁough.  

Vigorous exerсise: Inсorрorаte high-intensity exerсises like relаy rасes, obstасle сourses, or асtive gаmes to get heаrt rаtes uр. This releаses сhemiсаls thаt imрrove mooԁ, аttention, аnԁ foсus.  

Yogа: Leаԁ stuԁents in kiԁ-frienԁly аnԁ themeԁ yogа to imрrove boԁy аwаreness, minԁful breаthing, foсus, аnԁ relаxаtion through movement. 

Self-talk cues: Provide students with cue cards or signs with short positive self-talk phrases to redirect their thinking and behavior when frustrated. 

Sensory integration: Incorporate sensory integration activities like messy tactile play and animal walks regularly to provide students with the needed sensory input to aid self-regulation. 

Behavior contracts: Create contracts with students outlining specific positive goals, associated rewards, and consequences for misbehavior. Review and sign together. 

Creative arts: Allow time for expressing emotions constructively through drawing, singing, dancing, painting, or playing with play dough. 

Vigorous exercise: Incorporate high-intensity exercises like relay races, obstacle courses, or active games to get heart rates up. This releases chemicals that improve mood, attention, and focus. 

Yoga: Lead students in kid-friendly and themed yoga to improve body awareness, mindful breathing, focus, and relaxation through movement. 

Metacognition: Discuss behaviors and prompt kids to evaluate “What can you do next time you feel this way?” to build metacognition around self-regulation. 


Building self-regulation takes time but implementing consistent strategies makes a huge difference. The most important thing is encouraging metacognition by discussing behaviors and prompting students to evaluate “What can you do next time you feel this way?” With regular use of techniques like brain breaks, visual schedules, fidget tools, flexible seating, calming corners, positive reinforcement, exercise, mindfulness, social stories, if-then thinking, emotion identification, self-talk cues, sensory integration activities, behavior contracts, creative arts, vigorous exercise, yoga, and asking metacognitive questions, students’ ability to self-regulate will gradually improve.  

Teachers and parents should focus on praising small progress and providing non-judgmental support. Self-regulation is an ongoing process of growth, not a skill simply achieved and mastered. Approaching setbacks with empathy, modifying strategies, and allowing time to practice are key. Over time and with consistency using these techniques, students will build lifelong skills to thrive academically, socially, and emotionally. Equipping students with self-regulation and metacognition tools is one of the most valuable things teachers can do to help kids succeed now and in the future. 

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