Developing Self-Regulation  

July 09, 2018

I had the opportunity to attend the Kansas MTSS Conference 2018 at the end of April. This was a very educational conference and I learned some useful things that I will be able to share with paras, teachers and administrators in our area. We have found that our schools are hungry for information that will help us teach children how to be healthier socially, emotionally, and behaviorally.

One of the sessions was Developing Self-Regulation presented by Christina Mann from Kansas. She shared a definition of self-regulation: the ability to monitor and attune physiology, emotions, thoughts, and behaviors toward well-being and growth. This is a complex skill that is important for children and adults to learn and hone.

Self-regulation has four main components; bio-literacy, emotional literacy, metacognition, and interoception. These four components have to communicate and intertwine within ourselves and with those around us which is called co-regulation. Children who are not skilled in these areas will have trouble making and keeping friends and developing relationships with adults.

Physiology or bio-literacy is at the core of self-regulation. Included in this component are nutrition, nature, exercise, hydration, and sleep. In school we sometimes take these things away from kids who are having trouble behaving. have to teach kids that in order to grow physically and socially we need first to take care of ourselves physically. Imagine if more adults took this to heart.

Emotional literacy is also important for self-regulation. People have to be able to name their emotions, sense where in their bodies their emotions are felt, and be able to identify triggers for certain emotions. are contagious, feelings can spread between people even if we aren’t paying attention to them. We can catch both positive and negative emotions. The evolutionary basis of this is simple: humans have only survived and thrived in groups. We are social creatures. And because of that, we have a tendency to pick up on each other’s emotional states. Think about it this way. If you see fear on someone’s face, you are more likely to survive if you react quickly – if your own fear response is activated instantaneously. It could be the difference between getting eaten by that tiger your friend just saw – or getting away. And it’s not just fear. We are constantly sending and picking up emotional messages through many channels, including voice inflection, facial expressions, posture and specific behavioral patterns. Picking up on our own and others’ emotions is an incredibly important form of communication that we all partake in, even if we don’t realize it.

Metacognition (thinking about thinking) is a major component of self-regulation. When we are aware of our thoughts we can recognize and manage our emotions, develop empathy and concern for others, establish positive relationships and make responsible decision-making and it also enables us to handle challenging situations effectively. If students are metacognitively effective, they will always be reflective and conscious of their emotions and restrain themselves from being impulsive as they self-manage their emotions and recognize that the wrong decision made can have consequential effect on themselves and others.

Along with physiology, emotional literacy and metacognition a person who can sense the internal conditions of their body, sometimes called the sixth sense will be better able to self-regulate. This is called interoception. Mindfulness curriculum will include body awareness and breathing exercises which come under the component of interoception. When the interoceptive system is properly working, the sensations alert us that our internal balance is off and motivates us to take action, to do something that will restore the balance and help us feel more comfortable. For example, if we feel thirsty – we get a drink; if we feel full – we stop eating; if we feel cold – we get a sweater; if we feel anxious – we seek comfort; if we feel frustrated—we seek help. Interoception underlies our urge for action.

Each of the four components that Christina Mann discussed with us are intertwined with each other. What if self-regulation instruction and awareness could help us connect with ourselves and each other? Her stance is that we can improve the behavior challenges in our schools if we would make the school staff and the students aware of what self-regulation is and how it contributes to well-being and a culture of safety and growth in our schools. 

by Susan Evans, Teaching and Learning Coordinator

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