Modeling Emotional Self-Regulation Skills

Middle SchoolHigh SchoolElementary Education

This intervention can be used with children and adults and requires little to no additional cost.

Intervention Overview

According to Timm (1993), teacher modeling of healthy mental and emotional skills has a greater impact on student learning than any other tool or instructional method. Teachers can model self-regulation skills by explicitly naming their emotions and describing how they handle them. For example, a teacher might say, “When people start talking about other things while I’m still giving directions, it feels frustrating to me, and I have to take a breath, catch myself, and say, ‘It’s okay, I’m going to try again’” (edutopia, 2019, 1:12). Think alouds and role-playing are great ways to model self-regulation (Parrish, 2018). By modeling how to label and respond to emotions in appropriate ways, students are given vocabulary to self-regulate their own emotions. Students need time to “practice new behavior in a low-stakes way that breaks the desirable behavior in achievable steps” (Parrish, 2018, pp. 13). Teachers must recognize that while modeling is an important tool in helping students learn to regulate emotions and behavior, students may also need other learning tools and scaffolding to practice and apply these self-regulation skills. 

Intervention Guide

Grade Level: All
Materials: None
Duration: Daily, as needed.
  1. Create an emotion word bank for you and students to draw from when describing feelings (anger, frustration, joy, excitement, etc.)
  2. Frequently describe your emotions and thought processes to your students to teach them how to regulate emotions effectively.
  3. Role-play with your students effective emotional regulation skills, such as how to react when we feel angry or hurt (take a deep breath, count to ten, etc.).

Does it work?

One study evaluated 11 teachers in 3 elementary schools to better understand the underlying factors that lead to strong student-teacher relationships, particularly with disruptive students (McGrath & Van Bergen, 2019). The teachers with positive teacher-student relationships showed evidence of self-regulating and reflecting on their own emotions. They consciously reflected on how students’ behaviors caused them to feel and regulated their emotions in constructive ways. Additionally, teachers used perspective taking to perceive students’ reactions and empathize with them. This led to more caregiving behaviors. Teachers spoke more calmly to their students and  regulated “the intensity of their own emotional displays" (McGrath & Van Bergen, 2019, pp. 346-347). Teachers more accurately identified their students’ emotions which allowed them to administer consequences and teach behavior skills in more appropriate ways  Teacher emotional competence and regulation was associated with a more positive classroom climate (McGrath & Van Bergent, 2019). A study of 26 teachers in Kentucky, USA found that teachers with a high level of emotional intelligence and consistent modeling of emotional regulation skills often had fewer class disruptions and behavioral referrals (Walker, 2001).


Edutopia. (2019, January 12). Teaching self-regulation  by modeling[VIDEO].

McGrath, K. & Van Bergen, P. (2019). Attributions and emotional competence: Why some teachers experience close relationships with disruptive students (and others don’t). Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 25(3), 334-357. 

Parrish, N. (2018, August 22). How to teach self-regulation. Edutopia. 

Timm, J.P. (1993). The relationship between the teacher's state of mind and the affective climate in the classroom: implications for psychology of mind as applied to teacher education. Unpublished master's thesis, Goddard College, Plainfield, Vermont. 

Walker, A. E. (2001). Emotional intelligence of the classroom teacher (Order No. 9996964). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (304772445). 

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