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Monday, January 18, 2016

Calm, Alert & Ready to Learn – How to help our children self-regulate

Calm, Alert & Ready to Learn – How to help our children self - regulate

Who hasn’t at some time or another been mortified when their child has a complete melt down in a public place?  Personally, I can recall a time when one of our daughters (who shall remain nameless) would tantrum every time I picked her up from the sitter and made a quick stop at the grocery store, or pharmacy, on my way home.  It was embarrassing, people would gather, and because I was a teacher, I felt like people wondered how I could control my students at school, when I couldn’t even control my own child! I should have known that most people weren't judging me, teacher or otherwise as almost every parent has been there but it's hard in the moment when you feel all eyes are on you!

It wasn’t until I calmed down and gave it some thought, that I realized, I was expecting her, (at her worst time of day, when she was tired, hungry and eager to get home to her sisters and her toys), to behave in a calm, rationale manner.  Not fair, Mommy!!!  As adults, it is our job to determine how to help our children succeed, and in this case, it meant re-organizing myself to go directly home; returning to the grocery store, or pharmacy later, once everyone was calm and fed, or leaving these tasks until I could arrange for someone else to stay with the children or pick up what was needed.

Little did I know at the time, what I have described is a child (and her Mommy) struggling with self-regulation!!!  So what is this self-regulation?  Why is it important for children (and their parents to learn)?

Self- regulation is the ability to:
       attain, maintain, and change one’s level of energy to match  the demands of a situation or task
        monitor, evaluate, and modify one’s emotions
        sustain and shift one’s attention when necessary and ignore distractions
       Understand both the meaning of a variety of social interactions & how to engage them in a sustained way
       Understand, connect with, and care about what others are thinking and feeling -  to empathize and act accordingly

 During the past 15 years, Dr. Stuart Shanker and his colleagues from York University  have been tracking the increasing incidents of behavioral disorders (ODD, hyperactivity, ADHD, etc).  This worrying trend, as well as the dramatic increase in anxiety disorders in children and youth (ages K-age 24), and a tendency for these diagnosis to occur at younger and younger ages, regardless of income level of the family or gender of the child, have led scientists to conclude that behavioral management techniques, that rely heavily on punishment and reward are relatively ineffective in reducing children’s problematic behaviors.  Dr. Shanker believes in many cases these types of strategies actually exacerbate the problem. 

Recent advances in developmental neuroscience are dramatically altering attitudes toward the possibility of maximizing the educational potential of every child.  Scientists now understand the better a child can self-regulate, the better they can rise to the challenge of mastering ever more complex skills and concepts.

There are 5 Domains of Self- Regulation, which are connected and affect each other:

       Physical/Biological: managing levels of energy and tension in the body
       Emotional: understanding, expressing, and managing feelings
       Thinking: processing information from the senses, paying attention, reasoning, planning
       Social: communicating and adjusting behaviour to match what is needed in social situations
       Pro-social individuals engage in behaviours that are positive and helpful, promoting social acceptance, friendship & empathy.  Pro-social functioning is bound up in all the other areas of the 5 domain model, and is a higher level of self-regulation.

 A child who is ‘out of sync’ in one of these areas, may struggle with learning and relationships.  As parents, and educators, it is our job to recognize these struggles and teach children the skills that will help them to cope and ‘head off’ those behaviours we all come to dread!

That being said, there is a difference between misbehaviour and stressed/overwhelmed behaviour and we need to recognize the difference and handle it differently.

 If you want to learn more about self-regulation and how you can best help your child, we are providing a presentation at BELA on January 27th at 7:00-8:00 or on Wednesday, February 3, at 1:30-2:30.  Please call 501-0019 or email Jody at if you would like to attend.

Director of Education & Programming

1 comment:

  1. Always amazed by your insights...thanks for sharing Jody.