Top 5 Self-Regulation Activities: How to Teach a 2 year Old Patience

People often ask me how I can deal with an entire class full of 2 year olds. It seems like it would be completechaos chaos, but it’s actually easier than taking care of just one 2 year old at home, Trust me, I’ve done both! One thing that makes my job infinitely easier is teaching my students how to control their impulses (and this works for kids at home also). When most kids join my class they will wander around the room and open drawers, knock things over, run around at random, and snatch toys out of the hands of other students. After a while they learn the general flow of the lesson, which helps, but the biggest help is my arsenal of self regulation activities. Once kids learn to delay gratification even for a few seconds, you are well on your way to a cooperative classroom and/or home. Here are my top self-regulation activities for 2 year olds:

  1. IMG_9832

    Counting to 10 before getting out toys

    Count to 10 wherever possible: every time you bring out a new toy or activity, have the kids sit with their hands on their laps and count to 10. If you have new or especially impulsive children you will have to push their hands away at first, but they will soon catch on that there is a short waiting period for new activities and they will wait. Some more experienced kids may try to test you by reaching for the new toys before you get to 10, but in that case you just calmly place their hand back on their lap and start counting again from 1. Pretty soon they learn that it takes a lot longer if you jump the gun!

  2. Strike a pose: I usually do this activity in  combination with a vocabulary exercise, but you can use it as a stand alone activity. Just show the kids a picture of a person doing some sort of pose, then have them wait until you say “go” before they copy the pose. I use photos of kids doing some very simple yoga poses, but any easy pose will work. The key here is to have the kids look at the picture and have them plan in their heads what they are going to do, but keep them from actually doing it for just a few seconds. By doing this, you are exercising that “muscle” in their brains that restrains them from acting on impulse. At first they won’t be able to help themselves, but after some practice they will be able to wait. My usual routine is to show them a picture and then say, “wait, wait, 1-2-3 GO!” It is also a hoot to see how 2 year olds copy poses, so it’s fun for the teachers, too!
  3. Go and Stop: This is a favorite game for both me and my students, and all you need is some music. Just play whatever music you like and have the students walk or jog around in a circle, but when the music stops they have to FREEZE (or at least stop moving forward). I sometimes do this with a version of the ABC song, but I have to be standing next to the music player to make this activity really work. Other times I use a song that has a stop/freeze component in it so I can do it with them, and the kids just love it! These are my favorite songs that have self control activities in them:
    1. STOP! by Patty Shukla
    2. Stop and Go
    3. Walking Walking by Anne-Marie Akin, Songs for Wiggleworms
    4. Freeze Dance
  4. Sing first, then do: Whenever you have a transition in your day, see if you can fit a song in there. Not only does it help guide your day along and get the kids in tune with your plan, but it also teaches them to wait for the next activity while they enjoy a fun little tune. This is especially useful at lunchtime, because everyone gets so excited for lunch! I usually sing “Open Shut Them” and add “let’s eat!” at the end of the song. Adding a song keeps a buffer between the present moment and the next activity so the kids will focus on the song and not start ripping open their lunch boxes.
  5. Sleeping Animals: I didn’t think I could do this game with 2 year olds at first, but once I tried it they couldn’t get enough! Just tell the kids to “go to sleep” and then drop down on the floor, and explain that when you wake up you will be frogs. Then count to 3, say “wake up, frogs!” and enjoy watching a room full of 2 year olds hopping around like frogs. It’s fantastic. Repeat with different animals for about 4 or 5 rounds. They learn self control during those few moments when they are imagining what they are going to do, but while they are still pretending to sleep.

These are just some of my favorite self-regulation activities, but I’d love to hear what has worked for you!


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