You might be a parent, you might be a teacher, or you might be both. Whichever title is yours, you have an extremely important job: help children learn self-regulation skills.

Self-regulation is a small part of social-emotional learning that children need to acquire. Self-regulation is essentially “regulating myself”. Question: what do you do when you’re overwhelmed?

Me? I like to be alone. I go in my room, lay on my bed, close my eyes, and take deep breaths. This is the best way for me to deal with my emotions in a healthy way. Only in the past few years (with the help of therapy) did I learn to identify what option I had that helps me calm down.

The good news? Children don’t have to be in their late 20s before recognizing their own self-management tools. We can help them learn these emotional regulation techniques when they’re really young.

As adults, I feel we have a tendency to tell a child what they need in order to promote self-regulation. We may tell a child to go take some space, play with a stuffed animal, takes some breaths, etc. While these ARE helpful ideas, it’s more important that a child chooses their own self-regulation activity. Why? Because in allowing a child to choose an activity to help with emotional regulation, we help cultivate self-awareness.

A child is capable of choosing a calm down technique, finding if it works for them, and using it in the future. They’re smart and they remember. We have to trust that they’ll find the self-regulation skills that work for them.

How Do I Promote Self-Awareness?

The easy answer: have it available 24/7.

My toddler entered the 3s and I’m not kidding, overnight she was a different child. Larger emotions were reached in record time, and by the time she was dysregulated, I couldn’t teach self-regulation to her. So, I decided to make a self-regulation activity that I could show and use with her when she was calm in the hopes that she would use it as an emotional regulation tool when she had big feelings.

I created this calm down board to help teach my child self-regulation skills. This board helps her identify the big feeling she’s having and choose an activity to help her regulate those big feelings and calm down.

This self-regulation board is empowering because she’s in charge of telling herself how she feels and what self-regulation technique is appealing to her. Toddlers are all about independence, so this is the perfect activity to foster that desire for independence.

How Is the Self-Regulation Board Used?

I couldn’t just give her the board and expect her to know how to use it for self-management. I had to spend some time teaching it to her.

So, after I put it together, I introduced it to her as her calm down board. We opened it and talked about different feelings we saw. We pointed and named the feelings while talking about different times we might have felt that way.

I told her that big feelings are always okay and this calm down board is here to help her feel better when she gets those big feelings.

After we talked about big feelings, we looked at different activities that can help us calm down. We talked about all of them, but you can introduce them in smaller bits.

Once we talked about a calm down activity, we tried it. This was a fun way to show her how to use each activity and how it can help her calm down.

Then we role-played. I pretended like I had a big feeling, so I used the calm down board to show how I was feeling and choose a calm down activity. I moved my feeling into the box and said, “I feel sad.”

I picked an activity that I thought would help me calm down and moved it into the box. Then, I did the activity. I modeled what it looked like to have the activity not work (“I still feel sad. I’m going to try something else.”) and moved the picture back and replaced it with a new one. Then, I tried that activity. I said that I felt calm and moved the pictures back to show that I was finished with the calm down board.

Then, I let her pretend with it. She chose angry, moved it into the box, and tried pushing on a wall. She pretended that didn’t work, so she took some breaths. She pretended that worked and then moved the pictures back and put the calm down board away.

After pretending, I told her that this will always be here when she feels a big feeling.

Did I expect her to use it right away? No.

So, I modeled using it when I really was upset. If I expect her to use it, then maybe she should see me use it in the appropriate setting.

But what happened when she was really was dysregulated?

How to Use the Self-Regulation Board When A Child is Dysregulated.

I’ll be honest, this self-regulation board did not work right away. And I expected that. But I always kept it as an option because I knew at some point, she’d use it to self-regulate.

When my child became upset (we’re talking tantrum here), I put the self-regulation board in front of her. No words. We already used it, she already knew how. I needed her to use it when she was ready.

One, two, three tantrums later, nothing. Then, during a tantrum, I slid the calm down board to her, and she picked it up.

She moved the angry face and picked breathing. She walked away, went into her room, and closed the door.

I gave her a minute and then knocked on her door. When I went in, she was laying down on her bed.

I asked her if she laid down to try and calm down and she said yes. I asked if she was feeling better or if she was still angry. She said angry. I asked if she wanted to take some breaths and she said yes. We took three deep breaths and I asked if she was feeling better. She said yes.

I was so proud of her. It was then that I realized taking space and laying down was a good option for her. But at the same time, she realized that on her own. This is the point of self-regulation.

The next time she had some big feelings, I slid the calm down board to her. She chose angry and then bouncing to calm down. I told her I noticed she chose bouncing and I reminded her that she had a bouncing toy she could get on. She went into her room, grabbed her bouncing toy, and bounced down the hallway.

I asked if that helped her and she said yes.

This did not happen overnight. Please don’t expect it to. It takes time. Being aware of emotions is a big skill, I struggle with this sometimes even as an adult.

My biggest tip? Teach how to use this self-regulation tool when the child is calm, model using it yourself, and always offer it when a child is upset.

How Can I Get This Self-Regulation Board?

I want children to have access to quality social emotional activities, so I’m offering this self-regulation board free. This is by far one of my favorite tools to use and I hope you can find it useful with the child(ren) you care for.

Simply fill out this form below and you’ll be emailed the self-regulation board with directions for how to prep it.

*Note, the picture cards on this board are offered in male and female characters. You can mix and match pictures or choose one set. There’s something for everyone. 🙂

If you have any questions at all, please feel free to reach out! I’m consistently checking my IG messages, so you can send me a message, but you can also email me at

*Can’t see the form? You may have to click “Exit mobile version” on the bottom of this page.

Want More for Your Calm Down Corner?

Kids won’t always choose appropriate calming techniques; just like adults won’t always choose appropriate calming techniques. This is why I’ve added a Behavior Reflection Mat to our calm down corner. With this mat, kids can identify their feelings, ineffective actions, and make a plan for next time they experience that emotion.

Calm down kit behavior reflection mat for self-management

In addition to this reflection mat, I’ve also added a feelings booklet, coping techniques booklet, and cards to help students identify when they get big feelings. Find all these to add to your calm down kit by clicking here!

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