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18 Games for Teaching Emotions and Self-Regulation


Have you ever experienced a student who has difficulty with waiting in line or taking turns?  What about those students who may struggle with transitions or have tantrums/meltdowns?  We can’t forget about those students who may move too quickly or impulsively.  All of these students have one thing in common… the need of addressing their social emotional learning

Tying in games regarding students’ emotions and self-regulation are not only fun but keep students engaged. Let us help you help them with these 18 Games for Teaching Emotions and Self-Regulation. I can’t wait to introduce #7 to my students!


As adults, our emotions sometimes get the better of us too. That last-minute special cancellation, the negative parent email, or the “see me” note your principal left on your desk after a walk-through observation. All of these events can trigger a TON of emotions.

One emotion I don’t want you to ever feel is the stress of not having your lesson plans prepped, or the anxiety you get when you realize you forgot to copy that follow-up activity for your lesson. That is when you head to Education to the Core Premium and snag the activities you need in record time. Click below to unlock access to unlimited resources. 

Emotions Games

Emotions, in general, are very abstract.  It could be a difficult task to teach identifying emotions, especially to younger children. A student may be feeling anxious about an upcoming test or got in an argument with a sibling on their way to school. Would you punish or discourage a student for feeling a bit off?  No, but direct instruction of emotions and how to manage their emotions is an important first step. Check out these three easy ways to address emotions head-on.

1. Start off the day, setting the tone

You can incorporate emotions during your morning meetings, calendar, or schedule for the day. By asking questions like “What did you eat for breakfast? Or… How did your homework go last night?”.  This sets the tone for the day and you can gauge your whole entire class on who might have a tough day and why.


2. Play Games about Emotions

Games can be a powerful tool to incorporate into your daily routines.  You can adapt games already in your classroom or feel free to check out the ones below!  

a game for older students to understand and identify emotions


3. Find Those Favorite Movie Clips!

Show clips of a movie or a favorite cartoon.  Have students identify the emotion and what strategy could they implement to calm down (i.e., take a break, drink some water, ask for help).   

A great example of this could be Pixar’s, Finding Nemo.  You could show the clip of “The First Day of School” and students can identify how both characters are feeling. Marlin, Nemo’s father, is experiencing more worried and anxious feelings, while Nemo is feeling more exciting feelings.  Students can then brainstorm together to see what each character can do to calm themselves down. 


Self Regulation Games

If teaching emotions isn’t difficult enough, self-regulation is even more complex.  When we talk about self-regulation in kids, I am not talking about just self-control. 

Self-regulation involves having the ability to maintain and generate the appropriate behavioral and sensory responses to the input and stimulus around us.  By teaching these skills to children, it allows them to maintain composure as well as problem-solving in scenarios like sharing their toys or walking in the hallway.  

These 15 familiar games may be a great addition for your next recess, brain break, or just a fun activity in your classroom.  Many of these games may be familiar to you, but perhaps you didn’t think of pairing these with emotions and self-regulation! 

4. Parachute

Who doesn’t love a parachute activity?!?  This allows children to control their movements, listen, and remember directions with a non-competitive social interaction.


5. Self-Control Bubbles

You will need bubbles for this game.  This is a great time to truly sit as a whole group and discuss what self-regulation is.  How it feels and what it looks like.  First, you blow the bubbles and allow students to pop them as fast as they can.  Once they are all popped, you want to repeat blowing the bubbles.  However, this time students are not allowed to pop any of them.  It is a great visual as well as a conversation to have about the feeling of really wanting to do something, but having to hold back.

6. Hide and Seek

Perhaps this one may not be the best choice for a classroom setting, hide-and-seek is another game that incorporates self-regulation.  It allows students to incorporate their working memory and self-control.  They need to plan and prioritize appropriate hiding places as well as impulse control of remaining quiet.

7. Jenga 

Students and adults alike need coordination, patience, and problem-solving skills for this game!  You can even modify this game for higher learners or older children.  You can write questions on paper to tape to the block for when the student pulls the block out they need to answer the question or solve the problem on the block before placing it back on top.

8. Musical Chairs

Improve listening skills and understanding as well as accept a loss in a safe place are a few skills to learn while playing musical chairs.  

9. Relay Races

Teamwork and controlling emotions is the main part of relay races.  Working together and cheering each other on is always a great sight to see when children participate in races together.  

10. Ready, Set, Go

I incorporate this game in various ways throughout the day.  Perhaps I provide an assignment or a timed math fact practice.  Before we begin I always say: “Ready, Set…Go!”  My students enjoy it because I usually pause for an extended time between set and go.  It is also never the same amount of time twice in a row!  It allows the students to work on their listening skills, resist temptation, and self-control. You can also incorporate this with races and other games as well.


11. Freeze Game

Here is another great game for listening and impulsivity!  Play some music and when you pause it the child needs to freeze in whatever pose they are in.  They would remain frozen until the music resumes.  You can modify or adapt this game with rules of your own; like dance slow or fast depending on the tempo of the music.  

12. Headbanz 

Another fun game for self-regulation!  It takes a lot of control to not be impulsive and scream out the picture on their friend’s band!  This is another great game that can be adapted based on skill level.

13. Balloon Volleyball

Here is another effortless game on this list that does not require a whole lot of set up!  All you need is to blow up a balloon.  You can work in pairs or small groups to keep the balloon in the air in a game of volleyball.  Students will need to control their impulses and hit the balloon at the correct force to keep it afloat.  

Game 14. Duck, Duck, Goose

Here is a  great social group game for the whole class to play.  This game allows students to use their waiting skills as well as coping skills if they don’t immediately get chosen.  

15. Bop It! 

Similar to “Simon Says”, Bop It is a game that directs instructions for students to follow.  Working memory and listening skills are a must as well as to remain calm when a mistake is made.  

16. Partner Races

Two children need to pair up to carry objects across the room using various parts of their bodies.  Perhaps they need to carry a ball using just their elbows together or their shoulders.  Not only do they need to work together as a pair, but they both need to control their emotions, speed, and communicate together.  

17. Red Light, Green Light

Here is another game on this list that incorporates listening skills as well as impulse control.  The students would have to cross the room or recess yard however only moving on a green light prompt.  When the red light is called they need to stop immediately and cannot move until the green light is said.  

18. Don’t Break the Ice 

This is one of my personal favorites, however a pain to set up!  Although it may be a pain to set up for such a short-lived game… it is one of the best self-regulation games I can think of.  Participants need to be patient, strategic and use their problem-solving skills to make sure they are choosing the correct ice cubes to hit.  They also need to control their impulses and hit the block with the correct force to only hit that one block out.

Some other great ways to include self-regulation activities within your classroom are to incorporate mindful activities and deep breathing exercises into your daily routines.

Do you incorporate any of these games into your classroom already?  Have you thought about addressing SEL in your classroom this school year? Do you have any other games that allow children to control their emotions and take turns? Please let me know in the comments below.   Remember, I see you, I hear you and I understand.  Be kind, Be strong, Be You!

Written by: Christopher Olson


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