“This is stupid,” a student screams, throwing a book across the room.
Many teachers are seeing more disruptive behaviors like this in their classrooms from dysregulated kids.
Dysregulated kids exhibit intense emotional reactions like angry outbursts, tearfulness, aggression, or sometimes a lack of emotional response. They do not know what they’re feeling, can disrupt the learning environment, and aren’t ready to learn.
According to psychiatrist Dr. Bruce Perry, using tools to help kids regulate will open up the “superhighway to the cortex,” a.k.a. the ability to learn. Plus, their reactive behaviors will decrease.
When kids regulate their emotions, they can access their cortex for learning and emotional and behavioral control.
But before you can help kids, “Regulate your own emotions… That way, instead of matching the student’s energy, you are asking the student to match yours,” recommends special education teacher Rebekah Poe. Since teachers can’t take long breaks, she says, “Counting to ten, practicing breathing techniques, and grounding strategies can be super helpful. Even if you just pause for a few seconds before engaging.”
“Through mirror neurons, others synchronize with our breathing and movements,” says Lisa Vratny-Smith, a wellness coach for Aurora Public Schools.
Here are activities to help your students regulate—individually or as a group.
Rhythmic activities like clapping, jumping, drumming, or singing rhythmic songs can regulate a child.
Most children’s songs are rhythmic. Try The Stomp, Clap, Dance Song from Danny Go!
Less Sitting, More Walking and Standing
Any movement will help kids regulate, whether marching, walking, swinging, rocking, or swaying. Glueck says, “I do anything to get them up and moving. I have whiteboards up around the room so they can write around the room.” Colorado teacher, author, and consultant Michelle Gallegos says, “If I’m doing a math lesson and four kids are distracted, I ask everyone to stand, not just the four kids, and then I review it. Then I say when you’re ready, you can sit back down and keep working. That movement helps kids who aren’t doing the work or not following directions. It gives them opportunities for self-correction.” Another movement option in Kerry Manzo Colorado Springs’ elementary school is a Sensory Walk. A Sensory Walk is a guided walk down the hallway where students can engage in movements with visual and tactile elements.
2. BREATHING PRACTICES
Deep breathing regulates us by slowing the heart rate. “I teach a wide range of breathing practices, both calming and energizing,” says Vratny-Smith, “so that they can engage in a practice that meets their needs. Not every breathing practice is comfortable for everyone, so options are essential for staff and students.” Use transition times during the day to stop and take five to ten deep breaths. Remind yourself with apps such as Chill or the Bell of Mindfulness.
For younger kids, Vratny-Smith suggests using the image of blowing up a balloon. Inhale and spread your arms wide like a giant balloon; exhale and bring your arms into a hug.
Hot Chocolate Breaths
Hot chocolate breaths are another kid-friendly visualization technique. Ask kids to breathe in the warm scent of the drink, then cool it down with their exhale.
Help students focus on the rise and fall of their bellies with each inhale and exhale.
Children can practice mindfulness when they feel escalated emotions. As you teach mindfulness practices, increase the time as students are able. Consider using breath and sound as anchors.
Ask students to be still and quiet, to listen and relax their bodies, starting with their toes and moving up to the top of their heads.
Yoga poses regulate breath and develop body awareness. Find guided yoga stories for kids on YouTube or in children’s books and games.
Meditation is another mindfulness tool for managing emotions. Try a guided meditation like “Be the Pond” or “Ammi’s Adventure.”
In these challenging times, remember that you’re not teaching more bad kids; you are teaching more dysregulated kids. Building a relationship with each student and implementing regulatory activities will help students with improved behavior and increased capacity for learning.