Helping kids avoid anxiety, teaching children self-regulation at an early age

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SEATTLE -- More and more kids are experiencing anxiety in school, and according to research, it is because children are having a hard time rising to the challenge of the growing demands in the classroom.

That is why self-regulation is becoming a hot topic amongst early childhood educators.

Kit Harrington, preschool teacher at Fiddleheads Forest School, describes self-regulation as promoting social and emotional awareness, so children can learn to navigate how they are feeling and what they can do about it.

“When your child is stressed, overwhelmed and out of control, they're not going to be able to be learning anything in that minute,” Harrington said. “The time to teach them a lesson, one that's really going to stick with them and make an impact, is after you and your child have had the opportunity to calm down.”

At Fiddleheads, they give children time to recognize moments that are stressful, unexpected changes or a difficult task and then give the child time to work through the problem.

She says self-regulation is such an important skill to teach children at a young age because it is how they will manage stress for the rest of their life.

“We help them develop and cultivate an awareness of tools and strategies they have at their disposal. That might be breaths or using positive self-talk to work through a frustrating situation, so that they’re prepared to be successful in any situation.”

If your child is older than preschool age or these skills are not being taught in their school, it isn’t too late to teach your children self-regulation, according to Harrington. She says first you need to know your child and their needs.

“What are their strengths, what are their needs, what are their sensitivities? What types of things will be difficult for them and where will they need extra support?” she asked. “From their it’s a process of helping them gain that knowledge and same understanding of themselves and working with them to develop strategies so they can be successful no matter what the situation is.”

For more ways to implement self-regulation in your own home, Harrington recommends these books for children, which teach the following topics:

Promoting Social and Emotional Awareness

  • The Incredible Flexible You® series; Ryan E. Hendrix, Kari Zweber Palmer, Nancy Tarshis, Michelle Garcia Winner
  • Let’s Talk About Feeling… series; Joy Berry
  • When Sophie Gets Angry; Molly Bang  
  • On Monday When It Rained; Cherryl Kachenmeister
  • The Way I Feel; Janan Cain
  • Stand in My Shoes, Kids learning About Empathy; Bob Sornson
  • One; Kathryn Otoshi
  • Learning to Get Along series, Cheri J. Meiners

Social Toolbox

  • Your Fantastic, Elastic Brain; Joanne Deak
  • Alexander and the No Good, Terrible, Horrible, Day; Judith Viorst
  • Moody Cow Meditates; Kerry Lee Maclean (recommend reading ahead and making slight modifications for the preschool set)

Ground Rules, Expected & Unexpected

  • Know and Follow Rules; Cheri J Meiners
  • Hands are not for Hitting; Martine Agassi
  • The Way I Act; Steve Metzger
  • Lama, Lama, Time to Share; Anna Dewdney
  • The Best Me I Can Be series, David Parker


  • Stick and Stone; Beth Ferry
  • Join in and Play; Cheri J Meiners
  • I’m a Good Friend!; David Parker
  • How to be a Friend: A Guide to Making Friends and Keeping Them; Laurie Krasny Brown, Marc Brown
  • Chrysanthemum- Kevin Henkes
  • The Peace Rose; Alicia Olsen
  • Toot and Puddle; Holly Hobbie
  • Zero; Kathryn Otoshi
  • How Do Dinosaurs Play with Their Friends?; Jane Yolen and Mark Teague
  • The Rainbow Fish; Marcus Pfister


  • A Quiet Place; Douglas Wood
  • Step Gently Out; Helen Frost, Rick Lieder
  • Fredrick; Leo Leoni
  • All Alone; Kevin Henkes
  • What Does it Mean to be Present?; Rana DiOrio
  • Raindrops Roll; April Pulley Sayre
  • Take the Time: Mindfulness for Kids; Maud Roegiers
  • Silence; Lemniscates

Books for Adults

  • The Zones of Regulation
  • Calm, Alert, and Learning: Classroom Strategies for Self-Regulation; Stuart Shanker
  • Handbook of Self-Regulation: Research, Theory, and Applications; Kathleen D. Vohs and Roy F. Baumeister
  • Mollie is Three: Growing Up In School; Vivian Gussin Paley