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Research, Teaching, Well-being

How can K-12 students learn to regulate their emotions?

Emotion regulation requires noticing and naming emotions as they arise (e.g.  joy, excitement, frustration, anger), understanding the impact these emotions have in our body, thoughts, behaviour and expressions, knowing what causes us to feel the way we do, and having strategies to navigate our way through them. Research demonstrates that emotion regulation is a skill that can be taught and developed across the lifespan.


Talk about emotions to build a foundation for emotion regulation

It’s important to help learners notice and name their emotions. For example, you can help students identify book characters’ emotions and then link those to their own experience  using guiding questions like: how is the character feeling? Why do you think they feel this way? What might they do to change how they feel? What would you do?

Explicitly teach emotion regulation strategies

It’s helpful to teach a wide range of emotion regulation strategies, including mindful breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, positive self-talk and positive reappraisal (i.e. reframing a negative perspective about something and changing it into a positive one). Start by teaching strategies that are accessible in the moment (like mindful breathing) and that students already know. Explain what the strategy is and why/how/when it might be used.

Practice using the strategies

Practice the strategies when students are “cool” and not “hot.” When anyone is emotionally activated, it’s difficult to think rationally. In a classroom, this might include integrating a daily mindful practice during circle time or class meetings. This practice helps students feel familiar with the strategy and builds neural pathways, making the strategies more accessible when needed.

Create space and support for emotion regulation

Integrate support for emotional regulation into day-to-day life (e.g. if a conflict arises, you can help learners draw on strategies they have been learning). Students can also be provided with spaces where they can go to “cool off” if needed.  It’s important for children and youth to have autonomy to choose and use strategies that they are comfortable with that meet their particular needs.

Model effective emotion regulation strategies

It’s important to be mindful of how our behaviours provide implicit instruction and influence student’s skill development. It can be helpful for adults to narrate some of the regulation processes so that children can see/hear how they handle emotions. In a challenging situation, it’s also critical that adults use strategies themselves to stay calm so that they are available to help others respond to the situation effectively.

Parents and teachers play a critical role in supporting and teaching students the skills and strategies needed for emotion regulation. Research has shown that when students are able to successfully regulate their own emotions, they tend to experience improved health and wellbeing, greater emotional resilience (i.e. the ability to recover from stressful situations), more positive interactions with peers, and more success at home and school. 


Barrett, L. F., Gross, J., Christensen, T. C., & Benvenuto, M. (2001). Knowing what you’re feeling and knowing what to do about it: Mapping the relation between emotion differentiation and emotion regulation. Cognition and Emotion, 15, 713–724. 02699930143000239

Building Emotion Skills at Home:

CASEL (general):

CASEL (lesson examples):

Edutopia (general/SEL):

Graziano, P. A., Reavis, R. D., Keane, S. P., & Calkins, S. D. (2007). The role of emotion regulation in children’s early academic success. Journal of School Psychology, 45, 3–19. .002

Greater Good Parenting:

Greater Good (general/educators:

Greater Good (SEL/emotion regulation):

Gross, J. J. (1998). The emerging field of emotion regulation: An integrative review. Review of General Psychology, 2, 271–299. http://dx.doi .org/10.1037/1089-2680.2.3.271 

Ivcevic, Z., & Brackett, M. (2014). Predicting school success: Comparing conscientiousness, grit, and emotion regulation ability. Journal of Research in Personality, 52, 29 –36. .005 

Jennings, P. A., & Greenberg, M. T. (2009). The prosocial classroom: Teacher social and emotional competence in relation to student and classroom outcomes. Review of Educational Research, 79, 491–525. 

Marroquín, B., Tennen, H., & Stanton, A. L. (2017). Coping, emotion regulation, and well-being: Intrapersonal and interpersonal processes. (pp. 253-274). Springer International Publishing.

Stanton, A. L. (2011). Regulating emotions during stressful experiences: The adaptive utility of coping through emotional approach. In S. Folkman (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of stress, health and coping (pp. 369-386). New York: Oxford University Press.


Meet the Expert(s)

Miriam Miller

Miriam Miller

Researcher and Sessional Instructor, University of British Columbia

Miriam Miller, M.A., PhD candidate, is a learner, teacher-educator, researcher, storyteller and parent, committed to working alongside educators to embed social and emotional learning (SEL) and emotional well-being into their practice.

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Dr. Deborah Butler

Dr. Deborah Butler

Professor, Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia

Deborah L Butler has many years of teaching experience, particularly in supporting diverse learners in secondary and post-secondary settings. She is currently a Professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of British Columbia (UBC).

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