Evidence-based strategies for emotions

Evidence-based strategies are those that have been evaluated by researchers within school settings, and found to be effective.

Teach students about emotion

Teach students how to identify emotions

This may involve lessons where students label emotions on pictures of faces or how specific emotions feel on an outline of their body. Help students to identify the emotions, and to then think about how they feel when they experience these emotions. For example, “How do you know when you are feeling happy, sad or mad?” Our emotions cards provide activities to help students identify how emotions look and feel.

Talk about emotions with students

Talking with students about the emotions they are feeling may help them learn to identify emotions and communicate how they are feeling. Consider sharing experiences of when you were excited, frustrated or afraid to illustrate the situations and physical feelings related to emotions. Conversation about the causes and consequences of emotions can also be helpful.

Create a positive school and class environment

Build positive relationships with students

Positive teacher-student relationships can encourage students to feel connected with their school. Feeling connected to school is associated with better emotion regulation and independence, which can in turn support resilience. Positive relationships involve warmth, trust and accepting and supporting students’ emotions while setting appropriate limits on behaviour.

Encourage peer support

Having peer support from friends may help students deal with school challenges. Encourage students to help each other, share things and care for one another.

Have a structured classroom

This can help students actively deal with things that make them stressed, and seek help when they need. A structured classroom involves clear expectations and instructions, routines, guiding students through learning activities and giving opportunities for students to direct themselves. This helps students feel contained and safe, as they know how things work and what is coming next. 

Access our class schedule.

Encourage pretend play

Pretend play involves play where students act in different characters, pretend toys are real or imagine make-believe scenarios where emotional situations or events can be acted out. Regular pretend play with someone more experienced, like a teacher, SLSO, Aboriginal SLSO or Aboriginal Education Officer (AEO), supports emotional development by providing students with ways to express and cope with feelings.

It can also be a time where students can act out stressful situations they have experienced. Some students, such as students on the autism spectrum, may need additional support to develop their pretend play skills.

Encourage student voice and participation wherever possible

Providing authentic opportunities for students to be involved helps them to feel they are active, autonomous participants in the classroom.

Teach students a variety of skills to regulate emotions

Consider teaching students to reappraise the negatives

Reappraisal involves thinking about a stressful or negative event from a different perspective. Reappraisal can help students reduce or change the emotional stress of negative events. Reappraisal might involve attempting to learn from the experience, or considering whether the situation is as bad as first thought.

Our what is bullying school story (pages 9 and 10) gives an example of removing emotion from a situation, and looking at a situation from a different point of view.

Support students in stressful situations

Providing emotional warmth, support and encouraging students to express emotions during times of stress may teach students that emotions can be managed and are not permanent.

Show students how to distract themselves

Distraction from intense emotions like anger or anxiety may help alleviate students’ stress. This could include getting a student to talk about something positive, going for a walk, taking a time out to calm down before responding, reading, or listening to music.

Relaxation and mindfulness practises

Support students to engage in regular relaxation and mindfulness activities. This can be helpful for all students. Access a relaxation breathing script or watch an example of a breathing and relaxation activity.

Be aware that some students, such as students on the autism spectrum, may prefer more concrete wellbeing activities instead of relaxation or mindfulness.

Teach students to manage problems

Teach students to problem solve

Encouraging students to plan and problem solve can help them find ways to change or cope with stressful events. Coming up with adaptive choices when faced with stressful problems is one of the most helpful skills to learn to help regulate our feelings.

Support students to plan steps when faced with stressful or challenging situations such as identifying what a problem is, thinking of possible solutions, choosing the best solution, and thinking about whether it worked.

Refer to our problem solving guide for more information on problem solving.

Support seeking

It may help to encourage students to seek support when faced with stressful or challenging situations. Support seeking may involve emotional support to help students manage emotions like stress, anger or worry. It could also mean assisting students to find ways of solving social, emotional or academic problems.

Support could include student services from the school or talking to their general practitioner.