Building social and emotional learning (SEL) skills such as self-control requires face-to-face interaction, meaningful discussion, and reflection. Edtech is no complete substitute for that, but there are tools that can supplement the development of character in the classroom and at home. According to the Character Lab, self-control is controlling one’s own responses so they align with short- and long-term goals.

While some tools focus specifically on self-control, the websites and apps that you use daily (in all subjects) can be used to promote mindfulness, too. You don’t have to stop using the tools you love or toss out your lesson or curricular plans to start developing SEL. Below we have included some tips, tools, and actionable ideas for seamlessly integrating self-control and life-skills-building into your content classroom.

Why self-control?

Having self-control (some prefer the term “self-regulation”) is about appropriately managing your thoughts, feelings, and impulses. It starts with being consistently mindful of yourself and others and working toward a high emotional intelligence. So much of the way we use technology today challenges the idea of restraint, from tweeting in anger to posting for “likes.” There has been a large body of research suggesting that self-control is a key factor in determining success as an adult, so many schools are creating programs that address it, including this school that is embracing glitter jars and breathing balls. Whether or not we get caught up in what self-control is, most teachers would agree there is value when students are able to regulate themselves, leading to increased focus and accountability for their actions.

Related: How to address executive function skills in the classroom—and why you should

Take action

  • Teach a lesson that helps students think about possible outcomes before posting on social media.
  • Host a discussion around our digital impulses (clicking on junk articles, scrolling on social media, or posting for likes).
  • Praise students for effort and action, rather than for general traits such as intelligence.
  • Make sure the technology you use doesn’t take the place of, but instead supplements, face-to-face interaction.
  • Using our Digital Citizenship curriculum? Both our student interactives and lessons already foster key SEL skills.
  • Visit some other excellent SEL resources, including CASEL, Character Lab, and Ashoka.
  • Think about the digital tools you’re already using in the classroom. Can you find a creative way to use them to model self-control? Check out our suggestions below.

Directly target self-control

See our list Top Tools for Building Mindfulness in the Classroom for more resources focused on self-control.

12 apps to help students improve their self-control #SEL

1. Pause & Think Online
Our online video uses music and characters based on familiar body parts to teach students to stop and think before acting and to make the connection that behaving responsibly online is a lot like behaving responsibly offline.

2. Smiling Mind
Find a comfy spot, plug in your earphones, and just press play. Smiling Mind is an app that helps students practice meditation through breathing exercises and visualizations. Kids will learn lifelong skills to cope with stress and stay calm.

Build self-control in all subjects

For ELA classrooms

3. Write About This
Building self-control involves first paying attention to one’s emotions. Use the tons of prompts and images here to get kids writing and thinking about how they feel. Keep a daily journal or have them practice listening to stories they narrate in-app.

About the Author:

Danny Wagner is senior editor, education reviews at Common Sense Education. His focus is on guiding the editorial direction of the Ratings & Reviews platform to discover the best in education technology. In addition to reviewing digital media for learning potential, Wagner produces content and writes articles for a variety of topics, including STEM and social and emotional learning. Previously, he was curriculum technology integration specialist for San Francisco Unified School District and a science and robotics teacher for a decade in the midwest. Prior to his career in education, Wagner worked as an environmental engineering consultant.


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