Parents want their children to succeed in school, but what happens when learning is hampered by poor self-regulation and social-emotional skills? For many reasons children and teens can struggle with self-regulation that affects their social and emotional learning. Many of the dysregulated kids I work with have clinical issues such as ADHD, autism, learning and processing issues, anxiety, mood disorders, OCD, and PANS/PANDAS.
Clinical issues impact how the brain regulates and for some children, make it harder to put the brakes on when uncomfortable emotions and sensations occur. My experience has been that these children need a high rate of reinforcement in order to learn.
I recently worked with a preschooler that was on his way to an autism diagnosis whose impulsive, emotional behaviors were wearing everyone out. Cole was cute as a button, but at age six was just about to be tossed out of his third school. With a strategic plan that started with calming his brain with neurofeedback, Cole’s regulated behavior change is the talk of the school.
For students who need additional support, Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) can provide critical assistance in achieving academic and personal success. When an IEP has meaningful goals and objectives, the services provided in an IEP can go a long way toward improving skills.
The Importance of Self-Regulation for Learning
Self-regulation is a critical life skill that enables students to manage their emotions, behaviors, and attention. Dysregulated kids are students with poor self-regulation skills who often struggle with completing independent tasks, focusing in class, and managing their emotions, which can negatively impact their academic achievement and social development.
Research shows that students with strong self-regulation skills are more likely to have positive academic outcomes, including higher grades, better attendance, and improved test scores (Zimmerman & Schunk, 2011). By teaching students self-regulation skills, we can help them achieve academic and personal success.
What is Emotional Control?
Emotional control is a component of self-regulation and refers to an individual's ability to manage their emotional state in a positive manner. Emotional control involves recognizing and understanding one's emotions, regulating the intensity of emotional responses, and expressing emotions in an appropriate manner.
For example, a student with strong emotional control skills would be able to manage their frustration when faced with a non-preferred task, use positive self-talk to reduce anxiety in stressful situations, and express disappointment in an appropriate manner when faced with an unexpected behavior.
Cole’s mom and special education teacher targeted his self-regulation deficits by giving him the right emotional labels and tools for emotional control. That resulted in a shift from anger and aggressive behavior to proper labeling in his feelings. Moreover, with the added neurofeedback, Cole’s reactiveness eventually diminished completely.
What is Social Emotional Learning in a Classroom?
Social-emotional learning (SEL) refers to the process through which students develop social and emotional skills that enable them to succeed in the classroom and beyond. SEL involves teaching students skills related to self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.
The Goal of Social-Emotional Learning in the Schools: The Five Core Competencies
The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has identified five core competencies that are critical to developing strong SEL skills:
- Self-Awareness: Students who have strong self-awareness skills can recognize and understand their emotions, thoughts, and values. They can identify their strengths and weaknesses and set personal goals for improvement.
- Social Awareness: Social awareness skills enable students to understand and empathize with others. Students with solid social awareness skills can recognize and appreciate diversity, respect others, and understand social norms.
- Self-Management: Those with efficient self-management skills can regulate their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. They can set and achieve personal goals, manage stress and anxiety, and take responsibility for their actions.
- Relationship Skills: Relationship skills involve the ability to establish and maintain positive relationships with others. Children and teens with excellent relationship skills can communicate effectively, work collaboratively, and resolve conflicts in a positive manner.
- Responsible Decision Making: Responsible decision-making skills involve the ability to make ethical and constructive choices. Those with exemplary decision-making skills can analyze situations, consider the consequences of their actions, and make informed decisions.
Regular education and special education students alike can benefit from social-emotional learning in the regular classroom. Whether students with disabilities such as ADHD, autism or emotional issues get support through an 504 Accommodation Plan or an IEP, direct instruction is needed.
Why Are IEP Goals Important?
IEP goals are crucial for students with special education needs. They provide a roadmap for students and teachers, helping them to set achievable objectives that address specific areas of difficulty.
IEP goals for Self-Regulation and Social-Emotional Learning should aim to support the student in developing the skills and strategies they need to manage their emotions, behavior, and relationships in a positive and effective way. Emotional regulation activities within the classroom and through direct social-emotional instruction will give students the opportunity to learn.
Goals help students to make progress in their academic, social, and emotional development. They also help teachers to determine the effectiveness of their instructional strategies, and to make adjustments as needed to better support students in reaching their goals.
Why Have IEP Goals for Self-Regulation and Social-Emotional Learning?
Students who struggle with self-regulation and social-emotional skills are at a disadvantage in the classroom and beyond. Overemotional kids’ behavior makes learning hard. Poor self-regulation skills can make it difficult for students to complete tasks, focus, and manage their emotions.
These skills are critical for students to develop healthy relationships and succeed in their personal and professional lives, so giving kids like Cole the support they need can change the trajectory of their life.
Children with self-regulation issues need direct intervention. Social-emotional deficits don’t just fix themselves by being around neurotypical peers. I always ask my parents, “If your child had a math disability, you would get him tutoring. So, why is it different with social-emotional self-regulation difficulties?” It’s not.
Meaningful IEP goals that address self-regulation and social-emotional learning can help students with special education needs to overcome these challenges.
What Should Parents Know About IEP Goals for Self-Regulation and Social-Emotional Learning?
Parents should understand the importance of IEP goals for self-regulation and social-emotional learning. These goals are designed to help students with special education needs to develop the skills they need to succeed in school and beyond. Parents should also understand that these goals should be tailored to meet the specific needs of their child, as there is no one-size-fits-all plan.
Parents should be involved in the development of their child's IEP goals. They should work closely with teachers and other school staff to ensure that the goals are appropriate and achievable. Parents should also understand that IEP goals are not set in stone, and can be adjusted as needed based on the student's progress and needs.
How to Write a Meaningful IEP Goal
When writing an IEP goal, it's important to keep the following in mind:
Goals should be clear and specific, so that the student and teacher understand what is expected.
Goals should be measurable for progress can be tracked and evaluated.
Goals should be challenging but achievable so students can experience success and build confidence.
Goals should be relevant to the student's needs, interests, and abilities.
Goals should have a specific timeline for achievement, so that progress can be monitored and adjustments can be made as needed.
What Happens When IEP Goals are Not Met?
If a student is not meeting their IEP goals, it's important to determine why. Teachers and parents should work together to identify any barriers to progress and develop a plan to address them. It may include changes to instructional strategies, accommodations, or modifications to the goals themselves.
It is also important to know that if a student is not making progress despite these efforts, additional support may be necessary. They may get counseling sessions, additional educational services, or referral to outside professionals. Time and time again, I have found that taking an investigative, 360 degree approach will flush out what is holding the student back.
How and When to Ask for Support for Your Child With Self-Regulation Issues
As a parent, it can be challenging to know when to seek support for your child with self-regulation issues. It's important to monitor your child's progress on their IEP goals and identify areas where they may be struggling. If you notice that your child is having difficulty with self-regulation skills despite the accommodations and strategies in place, it may be time to ask for additional support.
Start by reaching out to your child's teacher or the school counselor to discuss your concerns. They can offer insights and suggestions for how to support your child at school, such as adjusting their IEP goals or providing additional accommodations.
Getting your own support outside of the school environment is always a good idea when your child isn’t progressing in an expected manner. Whether adding in tools such as neurofeedback or PEMF, supplements such as magnesium, or learning specific therapy techniques like EFT Tapping or play therapy, parents need support at home too.
How to Setup IEP Goals for Self-Regulation and Social-Emotional Learning
Setting up IEP goals for self-regulation and social-emotional learning involves identifying specific skills that your child needs to work on and creating measurable objectives to help them achieve those goals.
The following 5 steps can help you set up meaningful and effective IEP goals for your child:
- Identify your child's strengths and weaknesses: Start by identifying your child's areas of strength and weakness in self-regulation and social-emotional learning. This will help you identify specific goals that are relevant to your child's needs.
- Define specific, measurable objectives: Each IEP goal should have a specific objective that can be measured. For example, a goal to improve self-regulation skills might include objectives such as “improve ability to identify triggers for emotional dysregulation” or “demonstrate ability to use a self-calming technique when feeling anxious.”
- Determine a timeline: Each IEP goal should have a timeline for completion. It could be a semester or a school year, depending on the nature of the goal and the level of support needed.
- Establish a plan for data collection: It's important to establish a plan for data collection to track your child's progress toward their goals. The plan may involve teacher observations, self-monitoring, or checklists to track progress over time.
- Include accommodations and strategies: Each IEP goal should include accommodations and strategies to help your child achieve their objectives. These might include classroom modifications, sensory supports, or specific teaching strategies that support self-regulation and social-emotional learning.
What are the Most Essential Components of Goals for Self-Regulation and Social-Emotional Learning?
When creating IEP goals for self-regulation and social-emotional learning, it's important to include the following essential components:
- Each goal should have a specific objective that can be measured.
- The goal should have measurable outcomes that can be tracked over time.
- Each goal should include accommodations and strategies to help your child achieve their objectives.
- Each goal should have a timeline for completion.
- It's important to establish a plan for data collection to track your child's progress toward their goals.
Basics Components of IEP Goals for Self-Regulation and Social-Emotional Learning
IEP goals for Self-Regulation and Social-Emotional Learning should address a range of issues related to a student's ability to regulate their emotions and behavior, manage stress and anxiety, develop positive social skills, and make responsible decisions. These goals should be tailored to meet the unique needs of each student, based on their individual strengths and challenges.
Some of the main issues that IEP goals for Self-Regulation and Social-Emotional Learning may address include:
Students with emotional regulation difficulties may struggle to manage their emotions in a way that is appropriate for the situation. IEP goals may focus on helping the student identify and regulate their emotions through strategies such as mindfulness practices, deep breathing, and positive self-talk.
Those with self-management difficulties may have trouble planning and organizing their time and resources, or may struggle with motivation and persistence. IEP goals may aim to help the student develop skills such as goal setting, time management, and self-monitoring to improve their ability to manage themselves and their work.
Children and teens with social skills difficulties may have trouble communicating effectively, collaborating with others, and resolving conflicts in a positive manner. IEP goals may focus on developing skills such as active listening, empathy, and problem-solving to help the student build positive relationships with peers and adults.
Students who experience high levels of stress and anxiety may have difficulty focusing on their work and engaging in classroom activities. IEP goals may aim to help the student develop coping strategies such as taking movement breaks, using relaxation techniques, or engaging in sensory activities to reduce their stress and increase their ability to participate in class.
Those who struggle with decision making may have difficulty weighing the pros and cons of different options and making choices that align with their goals and values. IEP goals may aim to help the student develop decision-making skills such as gathering information, considering multiple perspectives, and evaluating the consequences of their choices. Tools such as play therapy or executive functioning skills training can be immensely positive.
Examples of IEP Goals for Self-Regulation and Social-Emotional Learning
IEP goals for self-regulation and social-emotional learning can and should be tailored to each individual student's needs and abilities. They can cover a range of issues related to social-emotional learning skill deficits.
IEP goals should aim to support the student in developing the skills and strategies they need to manage their emotions, behavior, and relationships in a positive and effective way.
Here are some examples of IEP goals for self-regulation and social-emotional learning:
- Student will identify and label their emotional state (e.g., happy, sad, angry) with 80% accuracy in a given week period.
- Student will utilize appropriate coping strategies (e.g., deep breathing, positive self-talk) to regulate their emotions during stressful situations with teacher prompting in a classroom setting, and independently in non-preferred tasks, with 75% accuracy in a given week period.
- Student will take a movement break when feeling overwhelmed or anxious in a positive manner, as evidenced by teacher observation, in a classroom setting, with 80% accuracy in a given week period.
- Student will identify the size of the problem and respond in an appropriate manner (e.g., using problem-solving skills) during unexpected behavior, as evidenced by teacher observations, in a small group setting, with 75% accuracy in a given week period.
- Student will improve social skills by using appropriate communication and social interaction techniques (e.g., listening, turn-taking) with peers and adults, as evidenced by teacher observation, in a classroom setting, with 80% accuracy in a given week period.
- Student will demonstrate self-regulation skills by remaining in the “green zone” (calm and focused) during classroom instruction, as evidenced by teacher observations and data collection, with 75% accuracy in a given week period.
- Student will develop responsible decision-making skills by identifying and evaluating potential consequences of their actions, as evidenced by teacher observations and educational environment, with 80% accuracy in a given week period.
- Student will participate in counseling sessions to develop emotional regulation skills and appropriate coping strategies, as evidenced by progress reports and parent communication, with 75% attendance in a given quarter.
It is important to note that IEP goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART). The goals should also be based on the student's needs, strengths, and interests, and should be regularly monitored and adjusted as necessary.
Looking for solutions like Cole and his family received? Then take our solution matcher to find out what the best solution is for your child and family.
Parent Action Steps for IEP Goals for Self-Regulation and Social-Emotional Learning
☑ Learn about self-regulation and social-emotional learning and how they impact your child's education.
☑ Attend IEP meetings and actively participate in goal-setting for your child's self-regulation and social-emotional skills.
☑ Communicate regularly with your child's teachers and support team to track progress and make adjustments as needed.
☑ Incorporate strategies to support your child's self-regulation and social-emotional skills at home, such as using visual schedules, providing movement breaks, and practicing positive self-talk.
☑ Collaborate with your child's school and support team to transition their skills to real-world settings and environments beyond the classroom.
☑ Celebrate your child's progress and accomplishments towards their self-regulation and social-emotional goals.
☑ Take our Solution Matcher to get science-backed solutions to help your child today.
Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. (2015). Building the Brain’s “Air Traffic Control” System: How Early Experiences Shape the Development of Executive Function. https://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/building-the-brains-air-traffic-control-system/
McDermott, P. A. (2018). Self-regulation strategies for students with emotional and behavioral disorders: Evidence-based practices. Routledge.
National Center for Learning Disabilities. (n.d.). Individualized education programs (IEPs). https://www.ncld.org/individualized-education-programs-ieps/
National Center for Learning Disabilities. (n.d.). Self-regulation. https://www.ncld.org/types-learning-disabilities/executive-function-disorders/self-regulation/
National Institute of Mental Health. (2021). Social emotional development. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/social-emotional-development/index.shtml
Pekarik, E., & Stephenson, K. (2017). Enhancing self-regulation for academic success: Strategies for students with ADHD. Intervention in School and Clinic, 52(1), 42-47.
Weare, K. (2017). Evidence for mindfulness: Impacts on the wellbeing and performance of school staff. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 25(14), 1-28.
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