Quarterly July 2017

KU PROFESSIONAL SERVICES AND LEARNING Quarterly KU Children’s Services JULY 2017 SELF-REGULATION VS SELF-CONTROL BY DR STUART SHANKER There is a fundamental difference between self- regulation, in its original psychophysiological sense, and self-control. The former refers to managing stress; the latter to controlling impulses. Self-regulation is what makes self-control possible, or, in many cases, unnecessary. Indeed, self-regulation is what makes learning in general possible. The key here is that stress, whether positive or negative, requires us to burn energy: either to meet a challenge, or to keep various internal systems operating within their optimal range. When children are over-stressed they dip into their energy reserves (hence the rise in cortisol). It is when they slip into a state of dwindling energy coupled with high tension that we see problems in behaviour and emotions, heightened impulsivity and reduced frustration tolerance. The problem, of course, is that young children have little ability to regulate themselves, and none whatsoever when they are in the throes of a meltdown: for the very reason that the subcortical systems in the brain that are hyperaroused impede those neocortical systems that support self-control. When we map what is going on here, we see an inverted-V. Trouble starts when the child begins to hurtle down the descending slope: IN THIS ISSUE : RESPONDING TO WARNING SIGNS Meltdowns and outbursts occur when a child has gone well past the peak. To learn to self-regulate, it is essential for children to recognise the signs of when they are starting to become overstressed. Appearances to the contrary, explosive behaviours do not come out of nowhere. They may build very quickly, but they nonetheless build, and the better children can manage their stress, the better they can avoid becoming dysregulated. This is where early educators have a pivotal role to play: not just in helping children regulate, but teaching them how to self-regulate. It is a vital skill for dealing with the ever-increasing array of stresses the child will encounter growing up: beginning in primary school! Provided we tailor our teaching in terms that children can relate to and comprehend, they can indeed learn how to identify and reduce negative stresses, recognise when they are becoming over-stressed, and know when and what they need to do in order to rest and recover. To perform this role, educators must be able to distinguish between misbehaviour and stress-behaviour; know how to create calming environments and routines; and maybe most important of all, work on their own self-regulation in what is undoubtedly one of the most rewarding yet demanding of professions.