Nothing gets a kid into trouble quicker than being unable to regulate his/her emotions. We often think of the meltdowns or outbursts that some kids do, but positive emotional dysregulation happens too.

You can be too happy or too excited about a positive event, just like you can be unable to manage your emotions after a disappointment. This behavior can be disruptive to the classroom and socially ostracizing for the child, so it’s important that it be taught.

While it’s being taught, it should also be accommodated. Learning this important executive functioning skill doesn’t happen overnight, so accommodations will be needed until the child can do this.

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Before we get into the nitty-gritty of accommodations, it’s important to understand what emotional self-regulation entails. Simply put, it’s the ability to manage and respond to emotional experiences in a healthy and constructive way.

For many students with IEPs, particularly those with ADHD, autism, or emotional and behavioral disorders, self-regulation can be a significant hurdle.

Self-regulation skills are essential not just for academic success, but for overall well-being. These skills help students navigate social interactions, handle stress, and make thoughtful decisions. When these skills are underdeveloped, students might struggle with impulsivity, frustration, and emotional outbursts.

Tips for Teaching Self-Regulation

  1. Explicit Instruction in Emotional Literacy
    • Teach Vocabulary: Start by teaching students the language of emotions. Use visuals and stories to help them identify and name their feelings.
    • Modeling: Demonstrate how to express emotions appropriately. Share your own experiences and how you manage them.
    • Practice: Role-play scenarios where students can practice responding to different emotional situations.
  2. Create a Calm Corner
    • Safe Space: Designate a quiet area in the classroom where students can go to calm down. Equip it with stress-relief tools like fidget spinners, stress balls, or calming jars.
    • Guided Relaxation: Provide resources for guided meditation or deep-breathing exercises. Apps like Calm or Headspace can be great tools.
  3. Teach Coping Strategies
    • Breathing Techniques: Teach simple breathing exercises, like the 4-7-8 technique (inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 7, exhale for 8).
    • Mindfulness: Incorporate short mindfulness activities into the daily routine. Even a few minutes can make a difference.
    • Positive Self-Talk: Encourage students to replace negative thoughts with positive affirmations. Create a list of affirmations together and post them in the classroom.
  4. Use Visual Supports
    • Emotion Charts: Use charts that display different emotions and coping strategies. This can help students identify how they’re feeling and choose an appropriate response.
    • Schedules and Routines: Consistent routines can reduce anxiety. Visual schedules can help students know what to expect throughout the day.
  5. Incorporate Movement Breaks
    • Scheduled Breaks: Plan short, frequent breaks for physical activity. This can help students release excess energy and refocus.
    • Sensory Activities: Integrate activities that engage different senses. This could be anything from a quick stretch to a sensory bin.
  6. Build Strong Relationships
    • Trust and Rapport: Building a strong relationship with your students is crucial. When they feel safe and understood, they’re more likely to communicate their needs and work on their self-regulation skills.
    • Consistent Support: Be consistent in your responses and support. Predictability can help students feel more secure.

Classroom Management Strategies

Providing IEP accommodations for emotional self-regulation doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Here are some tips to make classroom management easier:

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  1. Proactive Planning
    • Individualized Plans: Tailor accommodations to each student’s needs. This might include preferential seating, extended time for assignments, or modified instructions.
    • Clear Expectations: Clearly communicate your expectations for behavior. Use positive reinforcement to encourage desired behaviors.
  2. Collaborate with Support Staff
    • Team Approach: Work closely with special education teachers, counselors, and aides. Their insights and support can be invaluable.
    • Consistent Strategies: Ensure that all staff members are on the same page regarding strategies and interventions. Consistency across settings can enhance effectiveness.
  3. Foster a Positive Classroom Environment
    • Inclusive Atmosphere: Create a classroom culture that celebrates diversity and encourages empathy. Use books, discussions, and activities that promote understanding and acceptance.
    • Positive Reinforcement: Use a system of rewards to reinforce positive behavior. This could be anything from verbal praise to a token economy system.
  4. Use Technology Wisely
    • Assistive Technology: Utilize apps and tools designed to support self-regulation. For example, apps that guide mindfulness exercises or track emotional progress can be very helpful.
    • Monitor Usage: Ensure that technology is used appropriately and doesn’t become a distraction.
  5. Regular Check-Ins
    • Emotional Check-Ins: Start the day with a quick check-in to gauge how students are feeling. This can be as simple as a thumbs-up or a short journal entry.
    • Progress Monitoring: Keep track of students’ progress with self-regulation goals. Regularly review and adjust strategies as needed.
  6. Professional Development
    • Ongoing Training: Stay informed about the latest research and strategies in special education. Attend workshops, read relevant literature, and participate in professional learning communities.
    • Peer Support: Connect with other teachers who are facing similar challenges. Sharing experiences and strategies can be incredibly supportive and enlightening.

Implementing IEP accommodations for emotional self-regulation is a journey, not a destination. It requires patience, creativity, and collaboration. By equipping our students with the tools they need to manage their emotions, we’re not only helping them succeed academically but also setting them up for a lifetime of success and well-being.

Remember, every small step counts. Celebrate the progress, no matter how incremental it may seem.

Strategies for Developing Self Regulation

There are a lot of great books and even apps for emotional regulation. Sometimes it can be as simple as a calm down jar. Other kids need more intense interventions.

Many students will require direct instruction and lots of repetition.

Over the years, I have seen a ton of great stuff done for this. Some suggestions are:

  • Watch soap operas or novellas with the sound turned off; talk about emotions, and expressions and label it
  • Feedback discussions after a situation, recall what prompted the feelings, what all the possible outcomes were, and how to choose a response
  • Emotion face cards, PECS cards, stuff like that
  • Books on Emotional Regulation, lots of great stuff for different ages
  • small group discussions about emotions, feelings

Who Teaches self-regulation to IEP students?

I have seen emotional self-regulation addressed by various IEP team members.

  • Special Education Teacher, preferably one for Emotional Support
  • OT
  • SLP
  • Guidance Counselor
  • other trusted adult or favorite knowledgeable in this area
  • school psychologist

Self-Regulation in Children

I want to close this post with some final thoughts. I hope that most readers get down this far, and thank you to those of you who did.

Because as an adult who was teased and punished for her lack of emotional regulation skills when she was small, I can’t stress this enough.

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If you’re the adult in the room–you have to assume can’t instead of won’t.

I was not carrying on and making a scene because I wanted to. It was because I had no tools in my toolbox to effectively deal with the emotions I was feeling.

Kids do not hit, cry, scream, and all that other stuff because they want attention or just don’t want to handle the situation another way.

It’s because they lack the skill set to manage these feelings. For many learning-disabled kids, you may have a teen or even older, who is exhibiting the self-regulation skills of a toddler.

They do not want this to occur any more than you do.

Help them. Teach them. Don’t ostracize and punish them. It will not be successful.

I hope this post provides some valuable insights and practical strategies for accommodating emotional self-regulation in the classroom. As always, feel free to reach out with questions or share your own experiences. Let’s keep learning and growing together!

Executive Functioning Skills for Kids

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