Emotional Control Definition

Click the play button to listen to Dr. Gendron's definition of emotional control:

Sound bite transcription:

Emotional control, or emotional regulation, is about how well we can manage and control our emotions, or more precisely, our emotional reactions. It’s about learning to stay calm when handling small problems, and reacting with just the right amount of emotional reaction given the situation. So challenges with emotional regulation for students will often cause them issues with behaviour, consequently with social skills with their peers as well as adults in their environment, whether it’s their teachers, their parents. Learning to have an even-keel emotional reaction to different situations allows us to have the time to delay our reaction time, and properly reflect upon the best response, given that situation.


Students with emotional control difficulties may:

  • have a low tolerance for frustration or criticism;
  • appear to overreact, or react more strongly than their peers;
  • be prone to fight/flight/freeze responses such as outbursts, meltdowns, or shutting down.


Below is a list of possible strategies to support students with emotional control issues.

Understanding Emotions

Develop students vocabulary around emotions so that they are better able to express the way they are feeling in heated moments.

  • At the elementary level:
    • Have a Word Wall with pictures of emojis.
    • Explicitly teach students what emotions look and feel like. Have them practice looks of frustration, anger, sadness, happiness in front of a mirror or with a partner.
  • For older students:
    • Choose readings centered around emotions.
    • Help student label their feelings through verbal feedback, “It sounds like you are frustrated because…”, or “I can see you are disappointed that…”.

Regulating Emotions

Cartoon students meditatingTeach elementary and secondary students what “calm” looks and feels like, adjusting your language depending on the age group you’re working with. Then practice regular “calming” strategies in the classroom, especially at times of transition (e.g., before or after recess/lunch, at the beginning of the school day or the end of the day). Relaxation techniques, such as those listed below, help reduce the nervous body’s reactivity and slow down reaction time. This allows the person the space to improve their emotional control.

It is important to teach calming strategies regularly and at times when studenst are already calm, in order for them to become a learned habit. Calming strategies cannot be taught to a student at the time that they are angry or in crisis. Only when they have been taught, practiced and modeled regularly can these relaxation techniques be useful at times of need.

Some examples of calming strategies include:

Model your own strategies for emotional control, such as taking a deep breath or counting to three before reacting. Verbalize what you are doing so students become aware.