As we begin to transition from children to adults, we go through big physical, mental, and emotional changes that can be challenging to understand and manage. With hormones developing, school-stress heightening, and social expectations taking over, we need tools and language to process overwhelming or problematic feelings.
In the past, not much guidance has been given to students' emotional well-being in a hands-on way where they can take responsibility.
Now, we have developed activities and strategies to teach our students so they can learn how to self-regulate their emotions on their own. Here are 20 of our favorite emotional regulation activities to try out with your middle school students.
1. Changing the Way We Think
Here is another way of saying cognitive reappraisal, which is stepping out of self-centered thinking. Learning to look at the world in a way that recognizes and acknowledges other people's struggles and emotions. Give your students some real-life examples of when this can occur and calming strategies for how to reframe the situation in your head.
Learn More: Very Well Mind
2. Physical Sensations
Sometimes we may feel overwhelmed with negative or anxious feelings, but the underlying cause is physical. We may feel irritated at a family member or classmate, but the real issue is that we are hungry or didn't sleep well last night. Once we know how to stop and ask ourselves if our basic health needs are met, we can slowly take control of our reactions to different situations.
Learn More: Better Up
3. Filtering Our Thoughts
As humans, we all have negative thoughts sometimes. A self-regulation skill we can teach our students is to filter their thoughts before speaking. Many times we let our strong feelings take over and we say hurtful things we don't mean. Encourage your students to take a moment to process their thoughts before opening their mouths.
Learn More: School Specialty
4. Calm Down Spaces
One way to deal with challenging feelings is to change your immediate surroundings. Sometimes all a student needs to do if they are in a state of stress or aggression is to step outside, take some deep breaths, and look around.
Learn More: Connected Families
5. Stop the Numbing
Usually, we don't even realize we are doing it, but each of us has actions, substances, and strategies we use to distract us from processing our problematic feelings. For teenagers, some numbing tools can be tv, video games, food, or social media. Ask your students to write down what they think theirs is.
Learn More: Self
6. 5 Senses Grounding Practice
When anxiety or angry feelings begin to overwhelm and take your students out of the present moment they can try the 5 4 3 2 1 grounding technique. This self-regulation strategy asks students to look around and name 5 things they see, 4 things they hear, 3 things they touch, 2 things they smell, and 1 thing they taste.
Learn More: Your Therapy Source
7. Putting a Name to Your Emotions
Emotional regulation is about building skills to use when difficult feelings arise. Sometimes the simplest sounding strategy is what does the trick. Make sure your students know that any emotion they are feeling is valid, and talking about it and giving it a name helps it feel less overwhelming. Then they can move on to process why they feel that way and what they can do about it.
Learn More: Raising Children
8. Zones of Awareness
This useful educational resource is a great visual representation of basic feelings, categorized by the intensity and ability to engage while processing them. Go through and give attention to feelings your students experience and ask them which color they think they are in right now.
Learn More: Get in the Zone with these 20 Zones of Regulation Activities for Kids
9. Noticing Body Feelings
When you get angry, how does your face feel, your neck, your heart? Guide your middle school students through a body scan of how it feels when they think of a situation that makes them sad, excited, or anxious, and describe what happens to them physically.
Learn More: Raising Children
10. Opening Up With Friends
Sometimes teenagers feel like they can't talk to their parents or teachers about challenging emotions. Pair up students in the classroom and give them a calm space to open up and share how they are feeling. Most likely, their partner will be able to relate or show support in some way.
Learn More: Medical News Today
11. Deep Breathing Hand Counting
There are many useful breathing strategies you can teach your middle school students to improve their self-regulation skills. One method is counting their inhales and exhales while tracing their fingers. Combining touch and sight with breathing can help students stay focused on the action and calm themselves down.
Learn More: Asset Education
12. Problem-Solving Skills
When something happens to us that makes us sad, anxious, or angry, it is important to know the various healthy ways we can respond. You can find a printable poster with acceptable options to give your students a guide for what to do when they feel out of control.
Learn More: Pinterest
13. Body Calming Strategies
If a child or teenager begins to feel overwhelmed in a classroom setting where they cannot ask for help or leave, knowing self-soothing or calming skills can help them regulate their emotions. Some physical actions they can try are sitting on their hands, squeezing their eyes shut, breathing deeply, or shrugging their shoulders.
Learn More: Kindergarten Cafe
14. Self-Regulation Books
There are so many amazing books out there that explain the topic of self-regulation and understanding our emotions in a way kids and teens can relate to. Here is a list of some you can keep in your classroom as an available resource for your students.
Learn More: A Mighty Girl
15. Journal Prompts for Teens
Self-reflection is a big player in the struggle to self-regulate, especially when our emotions and social situations are in a middle school setting. We need to be asking ourselves the right questions and holding ourselves accountable for our words and actions. Here are some journal prompt questions to give your students.
Learn More: Teach Couture
16. Emotional Awareness Crosswords
If you are looking to see what words and concepts your students know already about self-regulation, it can be a fun idea to give them a crosswords book or print out to begin a discussion about challenging feelings and see how students say they usually respond to them.
Learn More: Word Mint
17. Setting Attainable Goals
While academic success is very important in middle school, there are other areas of a student's life that need ample attention and effort. Ask your students to think of one goal they would like to achieve this year and help them develop routines for success they can follow in their daily life to foster feelings of confidence and pride.
Learn More: 20 Fun Goal Setting Activities for Middle School Students
18. Verbalizing Feelings
Transient emotions are those that are intense and fleeting. Usually, these are the feelings that tell us to hit someone, scream, or run away. When kids or teens feel these types of emotions, as a teacher you can ask them what they feel like doing, then give them alternative options they can try to calm themselves down in a healthier and less destructive way.
Learn More: Very Well Mind
19. Taking a Brain Break
When you see one or more of your students look distracted, anxious, or aggravated, a brain break activity can be just what they need to get out of their heads and self-regulate their emotions. Some ideas are to get up and move, play a fun game, or do some deep breathing exercises.
Learn More: 52 Brain Breaks For Students That You Should Definitely Try
20. The 5 R's
These are Reframe, Recognize, Reduce, Reflect, and Respond. Learn how these are used to self-regulate and teach them to your students so they can reference them when needed.
Learn More: Parent and Teen