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March 31, 2021

Teaching the Social Emotional Skill of Self-Regulation: It’s You and It’s Now!

Cassetta and Sawyer, authors of the bookClassroom Management Matters: The Social-Emotional Approach Students Deservewrote, “We cannot and should not control our students’ behavior, but we are RESPONSIBLE for our students and their behavior.” This responsibility includes finding ways to increase the self-management skills of our learners.

CASEL defines self-managementas, “The ability to regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations.” Self-management is synonymous with self-regulation. Examples of self-regulation skills include, but are not limited to:

  • Managing stress
  • Controllingimpulses
  • Appropriate display of emotion
  • Motivating oneself
  • Setting and working toward personal and academic goals

Attainment of these skills varies by age, prior experiences, developmental level, the amount of instruction, reinforcement and practice a child may have had in the past in addition to other factors.

As a teacher, there are many strategies you can use to increase self-regulation. Here are just a few:

  • Develop a strong student-teacher relationship with EACH learner, even the students who may challenge you! Students are more likely to behave appropriately for adults they like.
  • Get to know your students. Try writing down five personal pieces of information about EVERY student in your classroom. If you can’t do this, you might have some work to do. This information will be useful to you as you look for ideas to teach self-regulation AND academics. It might also give you some insight into WHY the child exhibits certain behaviors.
  • Set clear expectations for your learners, and explicitly TEACH the expectations. Use the gradual release method to teach these behavioral skills. This includes teaching, modeling, guided practice and independent practice.
  • Teach it again! Some students may need additional instruction, practice or support. Try finding another wayto teach the skill to that group of learners.
  • Reinforce the skill through positive, specific praise when you notice the desired behavior.
  • Teach a replacement behavior if a student continues to struggle to exhibit the pro-social behavior you want. For example, if a student is talking out of turn, you might explicitly teach them to raise their hand and wait to be called upon OR have the student write their comment or question on a sticky note and put in on your desk to discuss later.
  • Remember, just like adults, children are not perfect. They are still developing and may take some time to learn a new skill.
  • Finally, take some time to investigate the CASEL website. It is jam packed with resources and ideas for increasing self-management (self-regulation).

Cassetta and Sawyer remind us, as educators, we have an “opportunity to be responsible for others—the lasting, positive impact of which you cannot even imagine. If you don’t do it, who will? If you don’t do it now, when will you?”


  • Cassetta, G.,& Sawyer, B. (2015).Classroom management matters: the social-emotional learning approach children deserve.Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

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