What is self regulation?

By Rosanne Papadopoulos

What is Self-regulation?  and what does it have to do with parenting or teaching?

Saturday morning and I am feeling self-regulated!  After a long week of work, I had a great sleep, am sitting next to the warmth of the first fall woodstove fire, on my soft high-backed chair, listening to the wind and the waves of the lake, drinking my coffee, and listening to some relaxing blues music…I think I have all my sensory systems covered!  I just may have to go for a walk later!

Self-reg…all the rage right now!

Self-regulation has become a new “hot topic” in the world of child development.  However, self-regulation applies to all of us!  …And adults need to be self-regulated before they can help their child!   Dr. Shanker www.self-reg.ca  describes self-regulation;

1) Recognize when you or your child’s behavior is “stress behavior” – Adult examples: Am I yelling because I am “stressed”? Am I not setting limits because I am tired and have low energy? Child examples: Is this child yelling or saying “no” because the demands are too high right now? Is this child lying on the floor because their body is tired or their muscles are low tone? Or are they hungry? Are they covering their ears when I talk louder?

2) Determine why this feeling is happening – the biological “stressors”.  In Shanker’s model, triggers can occur in any of 5 domains (biological, emotional, cognitive, social and pro-social).  When using relationship approaches with parents, we begin with regulation within the biological or sensory domain

3) Do something about it!  Once you understand the biological stressors, work to reduce these stressors for yourself or your child as much as possible!

4) Be more self-aware of your feelings and the stressors!   This is where children need our help as they grow in their self-awareness!

5) Figure it out… how do I help myself (or my child) to feel calm or regulated?

Children who are “dysregulated” need to borrow the brain of their wiser, kinder parent(s) or teacher to learn to become self-regulated.  So, that means that YOU need to understand and grow in your own self-regulating abilities first!

What is the original definition of stress?  

It originated in the nineteenth century by W. Canon.  He defined stress as “anything that disrupts homeostasis, that disturbs that base point or that set point, and requires the organism to burn energy in order to get back to the base point.  

Examples please!?

Considering this definition, biological or hidden stressors can include environments that …

  • feel too hot or cold (temperature)
  • are too bright, too dim or too visually cluttered (visual)
  • are too loud or too quiet (yes, too quiet!) (sound) or too much talking
  • feel too hard, too soft (chairs) or clothes that are too scratchy, or places with too much unexpected touch (stores or hallways) (touch)
  • have too many demands for fine motor skills and too few opportunities for whole body moving (movement)
  • require a child to sit or stand upright and in one spot for too long (proprioception)

If you are recognizing that this involves sensory processing, you are correct!  These are all sensory things that can drain energy from a person’s body.  The biological domain also includes sleep and nutrition.  Although sensory areas might seem insignificant, adding up all the hidden sensory stressors can make a huge difference for you or your child!

What does this have to do with parenting or teaching?

In our OT sessions, we begin with education which includes helping parents recognize their own regulation and “stress behaviors”.  Parents learn that to intentionally guide their child, they need to be regulated, thoughtful and reflective.  Then, they can be open to understanding their child’s needs for regulation and help their child be more successful within situations.  This also supports a child’s ability to learn. What goes around comes around!

Of course, this also applies to teachers!  Understanding and regulating yourself has a ripple effect through your entire classroom!

Rosanne Papadopoulos is an occupational therapist here in Winnipeg who is trained in RDI. Her website is found at www.discoveriesintherapy.com

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