Effective Practice Guides

Emotional and Behavioral Self-Regulation: Know

Goals for Infants and Toddlers

  • IT-ATL 1. Child manages feelings and emotions with support of familiar adults.
  • IT-ATL 2. Child manages actions and behavior with support of familiar adults.

Teaching Practices


Soothe young infants by voice and touch to help them reach a calmer state.
Eli, 3 months, is a new child in the infant room. Ms. Williams, his primary caregiver, learned from his family what techniques work best to calm Eli when he is upset. Today, a loud noise from the street suddenly wakes Eli and he starts to cry. Ms. Williams lifts him from his crib and holds him close, swaying from side to side until he relaxes and returns to sleep.

Identify and name emotions to help a child recognize and eventually use feelings vocabulary to talk about his emotional state.
Graham, 28 months, puts the last piece in his puzzle and jumps up, shouting, "All done!" Mr. Troy, his father, says, "Graham, you love doing puzzles. You feel happy when you get one done. It's nice to feel happy. Do you want to do another puzzle?" Ms. Drew, their home visitor comments, "Graham feels competent that he finished the whole puzzle. That sense of competence—being able to do things—will motivate him to keep learning."


Observe children's use of toys and materials to make sure they are neither too simple nor too challenging, which may cause boredom or frustration. Make changes accordingly.
Ms. O'Meara, a family child care provider, is observing the children's outdoor play. She sees toddler Malik climbing on a tricycle. He can sit on the seat, but cries in frustration—his feet dangle above the pedals. "Malik," she says, "I think you're feeling frustrated because your feet don't reach the pedals. This tricycle is too big. We have a smaller one in the shed that is the perfect size for you."

Create an environment of "yes" to support children's emotional and behavioral self-regulation (e.g., safe and appropriate toys, materials, and equipment within children's reach; duplicates of favorite toys; enough space for active play; places for one or a few children).1
Home visitor Ms. Elia prepares the space for a group socialization. She thinks about the children's experiences she planned with parents during home visits over the past few weeks. She also recalls a few struggles from the last socialization. It seemed like the older toddlers were constantly fighting over one toy or another. One child was so upset he had a tantrum and it took a while for his father to calm him down. For today, Ms. Elia sets up experiences for the children that include multiples of items—a water table filled with pom-poms and many containers, a basket with lots of balls, and play clay with cookie cutters. She also creates a cozy book area just the right size for a small group of children and adults for children who want a break.


Create a setting where all children have access to appropriate learning experiences.
DeAndre, 22 months, has been diagnosed with visual impairments. He learns most effectively using hearing and touch. In a well-lit, carpeted block area, Mr. Norris helps DeAndre touch the blocks to figure out their shapes. Together, they use the blocks to create a flat design on the floor that won't topple if it gets bumped.

Recognize children's emotional cues and respond in ways that are effective for a given child.
During a group socialization session, the infants and their parents are dancing to some lively music. Ms. Stanhope holds her 10-month-old daughter, Daria, and together they move and sway. Daria laughs and waves her arms. After a few minutes, Daria's expression changes. She arches her back and makes a pouty face. Ms. Stanhope says, "I think you've had enough dancing. Let me put you down so you can take a break." Ms. Unger, their home visitor, comments, "Daria was telling you that she wanted a change. You saw her cues and responded to them by putting her down."

Goals for Preschoolers

  • P-ATL 1. Child manages emotions with increasing independence.
  • P-ATL 2. Child follows classroom rules and routines with increasing independence.
  • P-ATL 3. Child appropriately handles and takes care of classroom materials.
  • P-ATL 4. Child manages actions, words, and behavior with increasing independence.

Teaching Practices


Involve the children in setting a few simple rules stated in positive terms so children know what to do.
Early in the year, Mr. Salinas leads the children in discussing what rules are needed for their class. Leanna, 4 years, says, "No pushing and no hitting." Mr. Salinas replies, "Those are good ideas. Can we say them in a way that tells us what to do instead of what not to do?" "I know," says Ari, "We could say, ‘Be nice.' " Mr. Salinas continues the discussion by asking the group, "What do you think? Would that rule work? What does it mean to ‘be nice?' "

Use positive guidance strategies to help children learn appropriate behaviors.
One of the jobs in the preschoolers' group socialization session is to be the clean-up announcer. Ms. Hawes, a home visitor, hands a small bell to Ms. Prior, Toni's mom, and says, "Today it's Toni's turn to be the clean-up announcer." Ms. Prior then explains to her daughter, "Toni, your job today is to let the children know when it is time to clean up. When I give you the bell, ring it softly as you visit all the centers. When the children hear the bell, they know it is time to put their toys back on the shelves."


Provide dramatic play props, materials (e.g., art, writing), and opportunities that encourage children to act out coping with strong feelings.
The children in Ms. Peres' family child care home have been with her for several months. Soon their families will be moving on to pick apples in the north. She adds suitcases and backpacks to the dramatic play box so children can pretend to pack for the move. She hears Maritza tell Diego, "Put your most favorite things in first."

Use visual cues and verbal reminders to help children prepare for transitions.
Every year, Mr. Carson makes a schedule using photos of the children engaged in daily activities. Today, Quentin, 3-and-a-half, is helping him take the photographs. Mr. Carson says, "We have photos of children arriving and in morning meeting. What comes next, Quentin?" "Center time! Can I take a picture of the kids in the art area?" responds Quentin.


Use role playing to help a child practice how to act and what to say when experiencing strong emotions.
"Oh dear," says Ms. James. "I know you want to paint today, Oliver, but all the easels are taken. I can't let you push Omar out of your way because you might hurt him. Let's practice what you could say to Omar instead of pushing him. I'll pretend to be Omar, and you can tell me what you want."

Pair a child with more fully developed emotional and behavioral self-regulation skills with a child whose skills in this area are still developing.
The temperature is below zero today, so the children are using the indoor gross motor room for active play. Ms. Porter is teaching the children how to mirror dance. She asks Jason and Renee to be partners. Renee, who has been diagnosed on the autism spectrum, often gets frustrated when trying something new. Jason, on the other hand, listens attentively and follows directions with ease. Ms. Porter often pairs Jason and Renee together for new activities. She feels confident that, with her support, he will be able to lead Renee during the mirror dance.

1Early Head Start National Resource Center (EHS NRC), News You Can Use: Environment as Curriculum for Infants and Toddlers (Washington, DC: HHS, ACF, OHS, EHS NRC, 2010), https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/learning-environments/article/news-you-can-use-environment-curriculum-infants-toddlers.

Last Updated: June 5, 2018