Self-Reg and the Prosocial Domain

Self-Reg and the Prosocial Domain


  • The crux of Self-Reg is that we are born with a brain that expects social engagement. Antisocial behaviour in a child is not the norm.
  • Clearly there are biological mechanisms that, in the wrong circumstances lead to antisocial behaviour.
  • Equally clearly there are biological mechanisms that in the right circumstances lead to prosocial behaviour.
  • Instead of asking how you compel a child to behave prosocially, through a lens of self-regulation we ask: what sets a child on an antisocial path?
  • The answer lies in stress overload: Fight-or-fight shuts down digestion, cellular repair, immune system, and PFC systems that subserve mindreading and communication.
  • Stress overload shuts down the very systems that enable us to experience “cognitive empathy”: not just being affected by, but aware of what someone else feels.
  • When social engagement shuts down, ancient systems run the show: systems that predate the Social Brain relying on aggression or escape to deal with threat.
  • Some children are born susceptible to limbic arousal, or something happened that kindled the limbic system. If hyperaroused, impulses intensify while social and self-awareness decline: the child can’t share, sympathize, or communicate. Someone else’s arousal is so stressful that it triggers fight-or-flight or freeze.
  • What is critical in such situations is how we respond to the child’s anxiety, which can manifest in acts of aggression.
  • Chastising a child for his lack of empathy, shouting when a child needs to be soothed, escalating when the child needs to down-regulate, can make things worse. Instead we have to do Self-Reg, on ourselves as well as with the child.
  • Early Learning centres and schools provide us with the perfect opportunity, not just to explain, but also to model this behaviour for parents.
Click here for a printable info sheet about all 5 domains.

Dr. Stuart Shanker is the Founder and CEO of The MEHRIT Centre.  You can read all the posts in his “Self-Reg View of” series here. You can also read his writing on Psychology Today and The Huffington Post.

By | 2018-01-26T14:11:39+00:00 October 8th, 2015|


  1. […] all the Self-Reg in action being applied here. These three experiences all made me think of the Pro-Social Domain. Demonstrating empathy can sometimes be a challenge, especially if we do not see situations from a […]

  2. Cheryl May 2, 2018 at 5:58 pm - Reply

    Is this suggesting that autism is caused by “stress overload”?

    • Stephanie Pellett May 22, 2018 at 12:39 pm - Reply

      Hi Cheryl,

      Thanks for your comment! No, that is not what this article is suggesting.

  3. […] how lucky we are to have such kind, compassionate, caring kids. I think they help me understand the prosocial domain even […]

  4. […] experience from yesterday makes me think about the Pro-Social Domain and how empathizing with a child often means seeing the world through his/her eyes. In the past, I […]

  5. […] and support. As I read through the card, I thought a lot about Stuart Shanker‘s work, and the Pro-Social Domain. There was definitely a focus here on empathy, and a lot of the ideas align with Shanker’s […]

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