One goal for all children is to help them learn self-regulation skills. This is true whether you are a teacher (of any age) or parent. Whether working with my classroom or with my own daughter, my self-regulation goals are two fold. First there is the goal of self-regulation in the moment, which can stem from the child’s needs or your very own to get through the moment. Second is the goal of self-regulation that is more long term. The teacher or parent vision of the future, of what the particular self-regulation skill looks like in the end and then breaking it down into specific skills that can be taught now. We all now that no matter how free you want your child to be or their spirit naturally leads them to be, there are times that call for self-regulation.
If you really take a close look at how self-regulation is taught, it does not always make sense. Take a school circle for example. The goal is to have children sitting fairly still, listening, while still actively engaged and participating. Often children are told what that looks like (the ever famous phrase ‘circle body’), but when you really think about it, this really isn’t teaching them self-regulation. Their minds are still going, bodies often going, and rarely (or so it seems) are children taught how to regulate from the inside out. Learning self-regulation skills should begin by learning that you, yourself, can control your own body. And to do that successfully, not to mention consistently, we need to know how to regulate starting from the inside.
After learning about big emotions, children began learning just this. That they control their bodies just as I control my own. Children also began learning ways they can do this and then participated in many games, activities, and all around fun times allowing them time and space to practice. “It all starts with the breath” children learned. Different techniques can be employed, but rely on taking that deep breath. The one that goes in your nose and out your mouth, and that you feel moving way to the bottom of your belly. Children may have had a chance to get silly, sometimes even a bit wild, but the games could only keep going if when the time came (when the sound of the bell rang through the room) they could regulate their bodies and practice the day’s technique. (Well, let’s be real here, if they could show that they were trying to regulate their bodies 🙂 ).
Throughout the weeks, children learned different things they could do alongside their breath. Maybe it was to watch glitter fall in a mindful jar, or tuck in like a turtle, or take three deep breaths and check in to see if they need more. Whatever method it was, children started showing greater ability when getting excited or stimulated and slowing themselves down – by themselves. When asked, “Who controls your body?” the children are always very happy to respond, “Me!”