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Managing Big Emotions Is Hard: How to Help Children Develop Emotional Regulation Skills!

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What is Social-Emotional Learning? What About Self-Regulation?

SEL is an essential part of human growth. This is the process through which we learn to better develop social-emotional skills in order to cope with life, such as:

  • Managing emotions

  • Having empathy

  • Making responsible decisions

  • Maintaining healthy relationships

It's crucial that children understand and manage emotions properly - and the earlier we give them tools to do so, the better. Self-regulation (the ability to label and manage your own feelings in order to achieve a specific behavior/reaction) is one of SEL's main goals.

Is SEL a part of the curriculum?

Many traditional schools or homeschooling parents have both started to integrate SEL into their curriculum, although it's not mandatory, learning to manage your emotions is as important as learning to read, doing math, or studying science.

SEL helps children thrive: it decreases stress, anxiety, and aggressiveness - it even boosts academic performance overall, according to CASEL.

Socio-Emotional Learning can be taught and practiced in many ways, but reading relatable books, helping your child identify their feelings, having gentle reminders, giving them tools, and being an example are all important parts of this learning process.

You can even find FREE lessons like the K-2 ones developed by a children’s mental health therapist and school social worker of 10+ years:

How can I help with my child's social-emotional development?

  • Monkey see monkey do: try to handle your own emotions the best and healthiest way you can. Children tend to learn from watching people around them. By being a role model, you incentive kids to handle their emotions properly.

  • Play pretend (a doll got really angry because she can't tie her shoes or do something that's relatable, etc.).

  • Validate their feelings. Yes, even those toddlerhood triggers (many times dismissed by adults). What may seem silly or small to you might be the biggest emotion a toddler experiences. Saying "there's nothing to cry about" or "stop crying" will likely give the impression that "feeling" an emotion is wrong. We want kids to learn to handle emotions. When they have a meltdown, you can say, "I understand you are upset, but hitting me won't help you." Give gentle reminders (preferentially NOT during the meltdown), and during the crisis, try to help them manage by giving deep breaths or other tools you've taught them.

  • Encourage shows/YouTube channels/movies that handle emotions properly if screen time is allowed.

  • Chat about your+their day, your+their feelings, and your+their behavior. For example, if a coworker dismissed you, tell your child you had a rough day because someone didn't treat you fairly. Tell them how you felt and how you handled it. Maybe ask them what they would have done or ask them for advice. Or maybe ask if they ever felt that way. You can ask them what was the best part of their day, the worst part, etc. Always ask how something/someone made them feel and chat about how they reacted to those feelings. Note: this is a conversation, not a lecture (;

  • Work on perspective and empathy. How did the character of the book/movie feel? Why?

  • Read SEL books and chat about the characters' feelings and behaviors

Did you say FREE books?

A special promo to help children thrive: between May 23-24, 2023, you can download the free eBooks below to read with grades K-2! Set a reminder and get them all at absolutely no cost to you. And please share this post with other educators, parents, friends, and family!

Please check each book individually by clicking on each of them/typing each title in your Amazon search bar (mainly if you missed the free promo and would you like to purchase a copy). Remember to take a minute to leave an honest review after reading a book, each of those authors will greatly appreciate it!

Or get all books in one click (if you see a "sorry" page, please REFRESH it a few times, grouped ebooks can be tricky sometimes):

How to get free eBooks from Amazon, and how to read them?

If you decide to check each book individually, follow the steps below:

  1. Using a browser on your computer or mobile, go to the respective book's page (beware that the Amazon app and the Kindle app themselves don't support eBook purchases directly!). Browser examples: Google Chrome, Mozilla, Safari, Explorer, etc.

  2. Log in to your Amazon account, if you are not automatically logged in

  3. Make sure you select "Kindle Edition" for the format (not paperback, audible, or hardcover). And you do not need to own a Kindle device to read your books.

  4. Check the price: between April 23-25 price should be 0.00, if you get the books on any other days, they will likely cost you money - well worth it, but be aware the promo is set for the dates previously mentioned.

  5. Click "buy now for free" or "buy with one click"!

  6. To read the books you downloaded, you can either:

    1. Use the button labeled "read now in Kindle Cloud Reader" if you are using your computer

    2. Go to the Kindle App (which is a free app you can download on google play/app store). Then find and select the book you got inside "From Your Library" and enjoy!

SEL Toys & Classroom Material

Emotional Regulation Activity Ideas

  • Make a mood thermometer:

  • Role-playing (different scenarios, feelings, and behaviors)

  • "How do they feel?" Emotions Trivia: describe scenarios or show flashcards.

  • Kindness Challenge: a one-week or one-month challenge with many options surrounding kindness and empathy

  • Create motivational posters together (display them on your learning wall area)

  • Journal writing: reserve 15-30 minutes to let them draw, doodle, or write about their feelings.

  • Deep breathing practice (before starting/ending a learning session)

  • Create a calm-down kit together

  • Boardgames like the ones mentioned under "SEL Toys & Classroom Material "

  • Emotions (or behavior) Bingo

  • How Full Is Your Bucket? (you can have physical tokens/stones by your desk. Every time a student helps another student: a token from the pool goes to them. If someone makes them sad, they can remove a token from their bucket and put it back in the pool. Get the whole class to check how full their buckets are at the end of each week, does everyone have at least one token? How can they fill buckets further next week?)

  • Coloring (works on mindfulness)

  • Self Portrait/Identifying physical response to feelings:

  • Do a self-positive talk session

  • Write a story together: each part of the story can be added by a different student. Chat about it afterward: how did the story make them feel? what was the happiest/saddest/scariest/etc. part of the story? How did they feel when they had to wait for their turn? How did they feel when it was their turn?

Other articles about SEL & Self-Regulation:


And feel free to connect with me on Instagram/TikTok/Facebook: @writerversejourney

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