Emotion Management Training

The Intervention

Emotion management training is an intervention that teaches students how to communicate and utilize emotion regulation skills when they are feeling strong emotions such as stress, frustration, sadness, or anger. Students who struggle with emotion regulation may benefit from direct instruction in emotion management skills and regular practice and reinforcement of these skills. Emotion management skills can help students learn how to regulate their emotional responses to situations and can help de-escalate situations in which a student’s emotions have become extreme or beyond what would be considered an appropriate response to a given event or situation.  In emotion management training, a SMHP teaches emotion regulation strategies by describing the skills of interest, demonstrating the skills for students, giving students the opportunity to practice the skills when calm, and providing positive and constructive feedback about skill application. These skills can be taught in individual or group settings. 

  1. Help students learn how to label and identify their emotions as they occur.  Many students struggle to define or label their emotions, so explicitly teaching this and practicing can be an important first step. Activities that can be helpful include emotion thermometers, emotion charts and posters, and emotion wheels.
  2. Help students connect emotions and body sensations associated with each emotion (e.g., sweaty palms when nervous, feeling hot when angry). Teach students how to read their own body’s signals by having them reflect on where and how they feel emotions in themselves. Helping students to become aware that they are experiencing emotions will help them be more successful at learning how to regulate these emotions by knowing when to initiate skills.
  3. Next, it can be useful to help your student learn to identify patterns in their emotions. You can help them to think about or take note of when they begin to feel strong emotions. Is it a certain time of day? Before or after a certain activity? Are there specific thoughts that trigger emotions? Helping them to learn the patterns and triggers of their emotions can give them the foundational tools needed to know when they will want to implement the emotion regulation skills.
  4. Teach and model coping strategies. These could include deep breathing, counting to ten, imagery of an enjoyable or calming place, writing in a journal, engaging in light stretching or coloring/drawing, or mindfulness. (See materials below for a list of coping skills)
  5. Discuss a plan for practicing them over the upcoming week. You may want to introduce one or two coping strategies at a time so the student has the opportunity to master each one. You will want to begin with modeling this strategy for your student so they have an example of how to appropriately use the strategy. Then, you can have them practice the skill in a controlled setting with you. Make sure to give your student feedback on their use of the strategy during and after they practice it.
  6. Once the student understands the strategy, have them practice it in a natural setting, like in the classroom or at recess. You may need to prompt your student in the beginning phases of learning, and slowly fade out the prompting as they get closer to mastery. Give your student positive feedback when you notice them using the strategy or offer constructive feedback about times that they did not use the strategy when you think it may have been helpful. Repeated practice is key to the student learning and being able to implement the strategy on their own.
  7. Once your student has practiced this strategy, it can be helpful to have a discussion about how it felt to use that strategy and if it felt helpful. If it does not seem helpful to your student, you and your student can discuss other strategies and decide together what they would like to try next. Not all emotion regulation strategies work for everyone, so this feedback and discussion can help your student to build their own personalized toolbox of strategies.
  8. Now you can begin to add in other strategies for them to practice. You will want to repeat this process with each strategy that you teach.
  9. Once you and your student have practiced multiple coping strategies and decided which ones are helpful for your student, you can work collaboratively with them to develop an emotion regulation plan for when their emotions are out of control. This should be developed with the student when they are calm and emotionally regulated.
  10. Depending on the unique needs of the student, it can be fun and effective to create a personal coping box. The student could fill it with coping resources such as colored pencils, a stress ball, pleasant smelling lotions, pictures of their favorite places or people, or reminders of self-soothing statements. When the student experiences a trigger or begins to escalate, they can utilize the resources in their personal coping box.
  11. Now that the student has an emotion regulation plan that they can implement on their own, it can be useful to prompt or encourage students to apply the skills at the first signs of emotion dysregulation. You can scaffold them learning to implement their plan on their own by slowly fading away your prompting and reminders as they get more comfortable and proficient in using their plan. Praise students for their efforts toward applying the skills when you see them being used appropriately and give additional feedback if necessary.
  12. Collaborate with the student’s teachers so that they can prompt the student to use the coping skills as needed and/or offer praise and encouragement when they try to use their emotion regulation skills. Give the student the opportunity to explain it to the teacher and share specific ideas for how the teacher can be helpful (e.g., helpful code words or cues to remind the student to use the skills, discreet feedback).

  1. It is helpful for students to practice relaxation or coping skills when they are feeling calm. Regular planned practice with these skills will make them easier to remember and implement during periods of emotional arousal.
  2. Emotion regulation strategies that are effective for one person may not be so for another. Having a variety of coping skills in your toolbox will allow students to try different things.
  3. Remember that triggers may be related to something outside of school. Students face a variety of stressors at home, in their communities, or at school. Try to be someone they can count on for support, even when they are having a difficult time.
  4. Communicate this plan with the student’s parents/guardians. These strategies often work best when they are used consistently and practiced across different settings. If able and willing, the parents can model the skills at home, encourage practice, and possibly even implement a similar system for emotional escalation.

Emotional management training has been rated as “not evaluated” at both the elementary and secondary levels as it has not been rigorously evaluated. Therefore, we cannot determine a level of effectiveness.

Elementary: Emotional management training has not been rigorously studied among elementary students to determine its effectiveness.

Secondary: Emotional management training has not been rigorously studied among secondary students to determine its effectiveness.

Recommendations: Although emotional management training has not been rigorously studied at the elementary or secondary levels, training interventions that use a similar structure have been found to be effective at training specific behaviors in elementary and secondary students. Therefore, we recommend that emotional management training be used for noncompliance, tantrums, destruction of property, disrespecting adults and peers, aggressive behaviors, peer rejection, and tearfulness as research on other training interventions has determined that this approach may be effective.


Intervention Scorecard

This intervention is recommended for the following presenting problems.

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Other suitable presenting problems