Self-Regulation: Give Me 5!

The best part of retirement, which in reality has become semi-retirement, is having time to invest in things that/people who, matter to me. Flexibility to hang out with friends, family, and grandchildren in the MIDDLE of the day just doesn’t get old!

There has been surprising bonus. One I didn’t fully anticipate. The opportunity to delve into self-regulation. SR snuck up on me over the past 6 years. It peaked my curiosity as my experience within a traditional, behaviouralist lens complete with laborious plans, sometimes written in matrix form, including the prerequisite consequence and reward chart did not work for many kids. More salient in my case, was  that it wasn’t working to improve the overall tone and workability in a classroom setting. Coupled with the expectation by some that children be punished for ‘bad’ behaviour I found a disconnect from my basic belief about children. A belief that was certainly influenced by the work of Ross Greene “Kids do well if they can.”

As an educator Greene’s work made complete sense. Rather than the premise that kids wanted to be disruptive, which could include yelling, fighting, work refusal, hiding, etc. they were doing so because they had lagging skills or lacked the ability to solve presenting problems. While their disruptive behaviours are clearly not helpful or even acceptable, punitive actions or reactions were also not making a significant difference.Years before I’d heard of self-regulation I had been trained as a Parent Connect facilitator (now  CONNECT© parent program). Principle #1 in this 10 week attachment based program was, “All Behaviour Has Meaning”. We took on the role of detective discovering which attachment need was not being met.

On this point I was very clear – there is more to maladaptive behaviours than pathology and/or getting attention, or getting out of work! We’d based our schools on those principles for decades and other than pockets of improvement the status quo prevailed. Kids acted up, or shut down, resulting in disrupted learning for many along with worn out, frustrated teaching staff.

During my time as an administrator I relied heavily on my counselling training. Unconditional positive regard, building relationships, making connections, and the critical piece of instilling hope have been foundational in my counselling practice and transferred well into my role of school administrator. These foundational tenets would have had little synergy within a rule-based, consequence/reward system of managing conduct in a school setting. Fortunately our school was moving towards a self-regulation model and away from the rigidity of the solely behaviouralist theory base. Phew! Even before learning what I know now about self-regulation, I knew that each child was different and a One Size Fits All discipline plan, which may work for a moment, does NOT translate into the transformational change we were seeking for our students.

I can’t express enough how much I am enjoying speaking about self-regulation at various schools. My experience so far is that staff are yearning for and thus seeking out ways that will provide long lasting change rather than a compliant quick fix. But make no mistake, change is not easy, nor is it quick.

Our bodies have a furnace. The job of that furnace is to set and maintain a healthy temperature. We don’t want pipes freezing or exploding. Nor do we want things so hot, we are in danger of growing mould or mildew. It would be so easy if we just set the temperature and it stayed the same all the time. But life isn’t like that. Our needs fluctuate.

Along with the furnace we also have an alarm system located in our amygdala. It’s the rare person who’s alarm is set to perfection. There are times that this alarm alerts us of dangers that may not be a danger at all. To add to the layers, there are things like smells, sounds, the feel of fabric that can trigger this alarm in many of us. Once that alarm is triggered it can be ever so difficult to shut it down. That would be the role of our pre frontal cortex, but once that alarm is sounding, the PFC can have an almost impossible time turning off that darn alarm. Self-Reg teaches us that sometimes we need to be that prefrontal cortex for someone else, because you see, we are not alone in this.

Dr. Bruce Perry, in his trauma work summarizes the response to a triggered alarm (heightened stress response) as:

Regulate, Relate, Reason

The key is that we, and by we I mean all of us, need to bring ourselves into a calm state (restore) before we can regain the ability to reason. This is true for the adults in a school building, parents at home, and children/youth alike. This is not new, but what is newish is that we know that this is working in classrooms and homes all across our land.

Loving that in this next phase of life, Better is still Possible,

The Story of the Log Jam

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