Yesterday, we talked about Time-In and I mentioned a little bit about the science behind time-ins. I wanted to tell some stories about what the word regulation means to help you understand this idea more deeply. Wisdom Wednesday is all about the science behind what I’m talking about on the All Relationships Can Heal podcast. I love the research and translating it into usable information for humans to help make life just a little bit better. I’m Rebecca Thompson Hitt and this is the All Relationships Can Heal podcast!
Regulation is a term used in nearly every scientific discipline, but until recently was nearly absent from parenting information. Regulation is feeling calm in the body, brain, and nervous system. Notice I’m not saying that you look calm on the outside. Regulation is more than just “looking calm.”
Have you ever had the experience of feeling really anxious, but no one can tell just looking at you? You were dysregulated. Your nervous system was on high alert, but didn’t have anything to fight because maybe you were nervous about flying on a plane or trying to figure out what you were going to feed everyone for dinner because they keep insisting on eating more food every single day.
You may not have looked like you were doing anything differently. And you may have even managed to pull out yet another meal on time. But inside, you felt stressed. That’s dysregulation.
When kids are dysregulated, they wear it on their sleeves. You can see it on their faces, you can feel it, you can watch it by the way they move their bodies. But we often interpret what we’re seeing through an adult lens of on-purpose behavior. If we were doing what they’re doing (and probably if we did what they are doing when we were little), it was probably interpreted as making bad choices, needing punishment, or being deliberate. But when we can start to see the dysregulation, it gives us new choices and new ways to support regulation. In the brain, regulation means wiring up from the back to the front, from the survival part of the brain or the emotional part of the brain to the thinking brain so that we can have choices with our behavior. When we’re regulating our nervous system, we’re learning the pattern of calming our bodies from the inside out. And when we calm in our brains and our nervous systems, our bodies follow down to our cells.
We can work any of these ways and make changes. But the important thing is the pattern is changing from dysregulated and not ready to learn to regulated and ready to learn.
Imagine a little one in kindergarten. This child is squirming, can’t sit still, keeps touching the other kids. We label this mis-behavior and that this is a child who needs to be punished to learn appropriate behavior. So, recess is taken away and the child has to sit instead of play. Do you know this child?
But when we start looking at the fact that this child is dysregulated, or not settled in his or her brain, body, and nervous system, we’re now looking at a child who needs HELP regulating. Interestingly enough, many children who are dysregulated like this need to MOVE their bodies to calm them. And that’s what we take away from them in school. The need under the behavior, when we start to look for it, yields clues about how we can support the child to return to a state of calm all the way through and have it ripple out into their behavior. We approach this backwards. We look at the behaviors and we try to make the child do the right thing. When we help the child to regulate, we create the conditions for the child to do the right thing. Can you see the difference?
Let’s look at the same child in two different situations. Jamie is 6. Jamie is having a hard time sitting still in kindergarten. Jamie’s teacher, Mrs. Jones, doesn’t know anything about regulation and has been taking recess away to help Jamie learn to sit still and listen. Jamie’s parents have been getting phone calls and notes every day from school and have been talking to Jamie about listening, but it isn’t getting better. Jamie’s self-esteem is suffering and it isn’t feeling good for anyone. We could go on like this for the whole year, but a class change happens and now Jamie is in Mrs. Nivah’s classroom.
Mrs. Nivah knows about regulation and can see that Jamie needs more movement to regulate so that listening and learning can happen. Mrs. Nivah can see that there are certain times of the day that are more difficult for Jamie and so she works with Jamie to move before that happens. Mrs. Nivah set up a sensory corner for Jamie and other children who needed some extra support and the children are invited to move to the special space when they need to move. She also understood that developmentally 6 year-olds aren’t meant to sit all day and that they learn through moving their bodies. When Jamie’s body is regulated, Jamie is settled and learning and actually ahead academically. Mrs. Nivah created the conditions for Jamie to do well, rather than trying to make Jamie change behaviors using a punishment and reward (external) system. And how do you think Jamie’s self-esteem is now?
Regulation is way more than just having someone seem calm. Focusing on the conditions and helping someone to know what conditions they are regulated and what helps them return to regulation is way more important to the long-term goal of behavior regulation.
We’ll be sharing more ideas that will help you understand our human journey even more and how these things can help us to heal all of our relationships every Wednesday. Tomorrow, we’ll be looking at Thankful Thursday. I’m looking forward to sharing why being thankful is important for healing relationships. It’s probably not what you think!