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Emotional Regulation Activities for Tweens and Teens


Middle and high school students often experience strong feelings, and self-regulation tools can help them feel in control.


Emotional regulation can be a particularly challenging skill for tweens and teens. At this point in their development, they can demonstrate social and emotional changes that may impact their ability to emotionally regulate in the school setting and that can affect grades, executive functioning, and overall health. When physical, academic, social, and peer pressures and fluctuations pile on, many tweens and teens struggle, to the point where they can feel like their lives are out of control.

Stabilizing coping strategies and self-regulating tools help students take ownership of challenging and overwhelming emotions. I use them frequently in my practice, with much success.

PREPARATION

Before you introduce new strategies to students who need to work on social and emotional regulation, keep in mind that they work best within a sturdy, consistent framework:


  • Provide students with choice. Emphasize that they can choose whatever tools help them the most. Reinforce that they have the control, which in itself is regulating.

  • Model these strategies consistently across your day yourself, especially when you are feeling emotionally dysregulated; this will demonstrate to your students that not only is it OK to have challenging feelings but also there are tangible ways to help manage them.

  • Link the use of these supports to being a successful adult. For example, you can tell your students, “Grownups often feel challenging emotions in daily life, such as frustration, sadness, worry, and anger—just like kids. They also have to manage jobs, family, and finances at the same time. When you learn how to manage difficult feelings and your own responsibilities now, that will help you become a successful grownup.”

  • Keep the strategies below visibly accessible to your entire classroom so they can tap the strategies at a glance (and build a community of understanding around the importance of emotional regulation).

Directions for students:

PROGRESSIVE MUSCLE RELAXATION

This is an exercise where students isolate and then tense and relax different muscles in their body. Progressive muscle relaxation tells the body where it is in space, which is good for teens and tweens when they are feeling emotionally dysregulated. It’s a great stress buster and has even been shown to help treat anger and aggression in adolescent males.

Directions for students:

MY LIST

Research shows that writing down positive affirmations about one’s core personal values and positive attributes improves self-esteem, executive function, and inhibitory control. When students list their strengths, it can help them get through a hard day and give them a confidence boost.

Directions for students:

COOL-DOWN AREA

A cool-down area offers students refuge when emotions like anger, sadness, and anxiety make their appearance, and these areas are often included in the design of trauma-informed classrooms. It is a dedicated space to practice emotional-regulation skills in the classroom, rather than in isolation, and it strengthens the educator-student relationship by communicating to the students that no matter what, they belong in the classroom community. The cool-down area can be equipped with dim lighting, an MP3 player with relaxing music and headphones, stress balls, markers and paper, affirmations lists, and even scent, like lavender and vanilla.

Sometimes it helps to invite the student to request their own cool-down area; supply it with items they choose, including pictures of family and friends; and name it themselves—for example, “The Chill Zone” or “My Calm Spot.”

Guide your students with these questions:

WEARABLE FIDGET

A loose key ring bracelet, scrunchie, or rubber band can be a nice alternative to a stress ball. They’re not as distracting, they’re portable, and they’re discreet. The physical movement of pulling or squeezing the material of the fidget can provide an outlet for pent-up feelings, while also getting out excess energy.

Directions for students:

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