Self-Regulation: the #1 skill for success in school and life!

As our summer blog book study on Challenging Behaviors continues, I am thrilled to bring you a guest post written by Jenny Spencer and appreciate her for taking time out of her summer to prepare this post for all of us. You can read more about Jenny at the end of this post but let me just tell you that she knows her stuff as she travels and speaks to folks all the time about how to address challenging behaviors. So let me hand the rest of this post over to Jenny!

Self-Regulation: The #1 Skill for Success in School and Life!

Several years ago when I  came across a workshop titled “How to handle all the fussing, fighting, fits, and tantrums” I really didn’t think that I needed it.  I thought I had everything under control.  Regardless, I decided to attend.  What I learned that day was the beginning of a transformational journey both personally and professionally.  I have discovered that it wasn’t control that I needed–it was connection. Hi!  I’m Jenny Spencer and I’m thrilled to be a part of this book study!  I am sharing from one of my favorite books with you today: “Managing Emotional Mayhem The Five Steps for Self-Regulation” by Dr. Becky A. Bailey…

Self-Regulation: The #1 Skill for Success in School and Life!

Over the years I have been faced with some very challenging behaviors so I understand how hard it can be.  My hope is that this post will inspire you and that you will learn some new skills that can transform your experience with even the most difficult child.  Move with me beyond what is comfortable to what is best practice in the field of early childhood.

I wanted pink!

Imagine that you are in a classroom of 3-5 year-olds. It is snack time and you are passing out straws.  You hand a blue straw to Billy, a white one to Alyson and a yellow one to Mary. All of a sudden, Mary bursts into tears and whines, “I wanted pink!” For many early childhood educators, Mary’s cry for a pink straw triggers eye rolling, frustration and annoyance.  With a room full of children still waiting on their straws, you quickly snap back, “You get what you get and you don’t get upset.”

What do you think about Mary’s reaction to receiving the yellow straw? Do you think she is picky? Do you think she is spoiled? Are you willing to consider something different? What if I told you Mary is not picky or spoiled?  Rather, Mary IS missing an essential life skill called SELF-REGULATION!

In today’s post, I’m going to share with you some information from Dr. Becky Bailey’s book “Managing Emotional Mayhem” that will help you begin to see behaviors like Mary’s as an opportunity to teach!  

Awareness Is Key

In order to help children regulate their behavior, we must first understand our own.  Becoming aware of how our feelings were handled, by our family of origin, gives us insight to how we currently deal with the children in our care.  Were your feelings used as teaching tools for self-regulation and problem solving? Were your feelings ignored or dismissed? Did your parents save or punish you for your upset? To gain clarity on how your feelings were handled, watch this hilarious Conscious Discipline Video: How to Go Conscious Not Crazy With Our Kids!

Let’s go back to Mary and the straw. After watching the video, you now know that saying, “You get what you get and you don’t get upset,” can be dismissive or punitive. What would this scenario look like if we used it as an opportunity to teach?

Active Calming

The first step in any discipline encounter is for the adult to breathe. Breathing disengages the stress response. By choosing to actively calm, you have a better chance of staying in the “thinking part” of your brain. This is where all of your brilliance and problem solving skills reside.

Think for a minute what behaviors really get your goose.  Perhaps whining, tattling, complaining, laziness, disrespect, not listening, irresponsibility, and silliness will get you started.  We refer to these as ourtriggers or hot spots.  Becoming aware of these triggers help you begin to manage them.  Mary isn’t making you mad, she is triggering your anger.  When you notice that you have been triggered, follow the steps in the picture below to help you get your power back by actively calming yourself.

Self-Regulation: The #1 Skill for Success in School and Life!

You could compare Active Calming to being like a Paramedic.  Imagine that you are at the scene of an accident and the paramedic comes running up to the scene all out of breath.  He begins yelling at you and saying, “What were you thinking?”  “Why weren’t you wearing your helmet?”  Perhaps he wonders, “Hmmm let me see if I can remember how to stop the bleeding.”  That wouldn’t be very helpful would it?  You want a paramedic that comes to the scene calm and ready to help.  This person has practiced the skills and has all the tools needed to be ready and available.  The same is true for teachers and parents.  We must practice the skills for Active Calming on a regular basis.  This ensures that when a conflict happens you will “arrive at the scene” ready to help.

Helping Children with DNA

Now that you have self-regulated, you are ready to coach Mary. Dr. Bailey gives us the DNA Process to bridge the gap between problems and solutions.


Describe and mirror (demonstrate) the emotional signals the child’s body and face are providing.  Always begin with the word your.

“Your arm went like this_________.” Demonstrate

“Your eyes are like this __________.” Demonstrate

As you demonstrate, the child will usually bring their gaze toward you. When they do, take a deep calming breath and soften your face.


Name the feeling you believe is being communicated.  ALL behavior is communication! Always say, “You seem ___.” Dr. Bailey suggests starting off by filling the blank with one of four primary feelings:  Happy, Sad, Angry, or Scared. “You seem angry.”


End the process by acknowledging the child’s positive intent and/or desire. Acknowledging the child’s most heartfelt wishes shows you understand.

“You wanted the pink straw.”

Does that mean you give her the pink straw?  Absolutely not!  By going through this process with her you help her become aware.  You help her notice her body signals and help yourself stay in the present moment.  This helps you access the higher centers of the brain and see the upset from the child’s point of view.

Choosing to respond to the behavior of children out of the higher centers of your brain rather than reacting out of the lower centers is self-discipline.  This helps you connect with the child in the moments of upset and teaches new skills.  Empowering yourself so you can empower children…now that’s true power, that’s Conscious Discipline®!

About Jenny Spencer
Self-Regulation: The #1 Skill for Success in School and Life! by Jenny Spencer
 Jenny was an early childhood special education teacher in the public school for 18 years and left the classroom just over a year ago to focus more on her own family and to begin the process of developing her business as a Conscious Discipline Certified Instructor.  I have met Jenny personally (we live in the same town) and can tell you that she is incredibly passionate about the work she does in early childhood education and I appreciate her so much for taking the time to share with us today!
Connect with JennyIgnite Learning
Please take the time to connect with Jenny over at her blog – Ignite Learning: Bright Ideas for Parents and Teachers
And You Can Read More!
The Five Steps for Self-Regulation by Jenny Spencer was published just yesterday as a continuation of this discussion!

Learn more about Dr. Bailey and Conscious Discipline by going to the website: Conscious Discipline® is a classroom management system that integrates social-emotional learning using everyday events to teach life skills. Most importantly, Conscience Discipline teaches adult’s new skills first so they can coach children effectively.

These Books and more by Dr. Becky Bailey are Available on Amazon!

Be sure to check out the other posts in our Summer Book Blog Study! See the Linky Below!!

Deborah J Stewart

Deborah J Stewart

Every time I think I know everything I need to know about teaching young children, God says, "Hold on a minute!" and gives me a new challenge.

Let me tell ya...

With each new challenge that you overcome, you will find yourself better equipped and more passionate about teaching young children.

God didn't call wimps to lead, teach, or care for His children. Nope, he has high expectations, so get ready. You will have to give your very best but after teaching for over 30 years, I can tell you that it is a wonderful and rewarding journey.

Whenever your calling feels hard, just remember, 'He who began a good work in you (and in the children you serve) will be faithful to complete it.'

Subscribe to My Newsletter

Latest Blog Posts

P is for Pizza!

While learning about the letter “P” we decided to explore with pizza! Pizza is an all-time favorite food for many preschoolers, and activities involving pizza

Read More »