Friday, April 15, 2016

Strategies for Promoting Self-Regulation in Children

We recently wrote about promoting mindfulness in children, which received a great deal of response and thanks from parents and teachers who were trying to address social and emotional learning with their children. They noted, however, that it has been hard for them to find tangible, effective ways to teach children skills like mindfulness and self-regulation. In response to their comments, we are going to dig a little deeper into self-regulation – the processes we use to calm ourselves down when feeling upset, angry, or overwhelmed or cheer ourselves up when feeling dejected or sad.

Social-Emotional Development and the Brain

Often, as parents or teachers, we think that children will be able to develop regulatory skills on their own. This is correct to some extent, as children do begin to develop self-soothing and self-regulatory abilities in infancy, and they continue to develop these over time. However, it can be hard for children to learn how to work through big, overwhelming feelings in a thoughtful, proactive manner. They often need to be explicitly be taught strategies for regulating their emotions and responses.

For more information, Dr. Shonkoff, Director, Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University gives a wonderful three-minute overview of the relationship between brain development, cognition, and emotional regulation in his video Brain Builders.

However, the salient question for many teachers and parents is how to translate all the information they know about the importance of fostering a child’s social-emotional development into fun and effective learning experiences. Luckily, we are here to help, and have outlined a few of our favorite resources and ideas for you below. 

Gross Motor Actives that Promote Self-Regulation

At The Yellin Center, we often recommend that students who are struggling with self-regulation or impulse control participate in gross motor actives that promote mind-body awareness. Examples of such activities are martial arts, ballet or yoga. A research study done by the University of Wisconsin-Madison supports this notion. Researchers looked at using a school based Tae Kwon Do training program to develop self-regulatory skills in students in kindergarten through fifth grade. They found that at the end of their three-month intervention the students in the martial arts program demonstrated greater improvements in “cognitive self-regulation, effective self-regulation, prosocial behavior, classroom conduct, and performance on a mental math test (Lakes & Hoyt, 2004).

Yoga is another activity that can help promote self-regulation in children. The children’s yoga and mindfulness program, Move with ME ™, provides video yoga classes to teach health and self-regulation skills to children through stories and pretend play. As children go through each video they will have fun pretending to be everything from a lion to a rocket ship. Beyond their yoga videos, Move with Me, also offers trainings, informative self-regulation activities, and other mindfulness curriculum materials. Best of all, Move with Me is constantly staying current on the latest research in social-emotional development in children and sharing that with their users.

Mind Up Curriculum

Scholastic has a curriculum called Mind Up that helps children “focus their attention, improve their self-regulation skills, build resilience to stress, and develop a positive mind-set in both school and life.” The lessons and curriculum are broken up by age group, and provide resources for children in grades kindergarten through eighth grade.

What we like best about the Mind Up curriculum is that it was created by neuroscientists, behavioral psychologists, and educators who use the notion that knowing one’s own brain can empower students to learn complex skills and overcome challenges. When developing their instructional strategies they integrate the latest neuroscience research on how our brain works and how it impacts learning. Here at The Yellin Center, that is exactly what we do and believe in. By knowing how their brain works, and what parts of their brain control their actions, feelings, and learning, students are often better able to overcome their challenges. If you head over to the Scholastic Website you can download a sample lesson plan and excerpt from the program to determine if the materials would meet your needs.

Lakes, K. D., & Hoyt, W. T. (2004). Promoting self-regulation through school-based martial arts training. Applied Developmental Psychology, 25, 238-302.

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