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Acquired Governor: An acquired governor is the result of an association (stored in the amygdala and hippocampus) that triggers limbic braking

Adrenaline: Also known as epinephrine, adrenaline is a hormone secreted by the adrenal medulla as part of the fight or flight response to stress

Adaptive coping strategies: Strategies that can be used to effectively deal with stress and help people return to a state of calm and balance

Affect diathesis theory: Dr. Stanley Greenspan’s theory that one of the core deficits in autism is the inability to connect affect (emotion) to the motor planning and symbol formation needed for engaging in the reciprocal emotional interactions that are so important for learning, including the development of social skills

Allostatic overload: A state that occurs when a person is stressed to the point where demands on the homeostatic system are so great that recovery mechanisms are overstretched and become compromised

Amygdala: A part of the limbic system which makes very fast (but not always accurate) evaluations of whether a stimulus, situation or person is a threat, and initiates a stress response if it detects a threat

Appraisal: The cognitive process of evaluating a situation and its meaning (see also reappraisal)

Arousal regulation: When a caregiver helps a child up- or down-regulate as necessary by modulating stress. This is a key function of the Interbrain, given that heightened stress can lead to physiological, neural, psychological, and emotional hyper- or hypo-arousal.

Attentional capture: The involuntary or unconscious capture of a child’s attention by stimuli, such as the fast moving images and sounds of video games, which activate areas of the brain associated with reward structures of the brain

Attentional control: The ability to voluntarily shift attention as needed

Attractor: A highly stable pattern that develops in complex systems in which the parts of the system are bound together in a web of mutually reinforcing co-actions. Attractors often constrain future possibilities for change or growth.

Authoritarian parenting: A parenting style characterized by high demands, high levels of punitive responses and low levels of nurturing responses

Authoritative parenting: A parenting style that balances parental demands with warm, nurturing responses. In Self-Reg, it refers to parenting characterized by calm, mindful and empathic responses to children’s behaviour.

Balance: In Self-Reg, the state of blue brain red brain balance: a state where the blue brain and red brain are working smoothly together and acting as a check and balance for each other so that energy expenditure and recovery are finely counter balanced. Blue brain red brain balance promotes optimal self-regulation in each of the five domains (biological, emotion, cognitive, social, prosocial), social co-regulation and also biological functions such as digestion, cellular repair and the immune system.

Bliss point: The maximum release of opioids; euphoric satisfaction. In food science, the combination of fat, sugar, and salt that maximizes opioid release and contributes to cravings.

Blue brain (a.k.a. learning brain or social brain) (see Triune Brain/neocortex): A Self-Reg term for the neocortex, the brain system that supports higher-order thinking and functions like language, self-control, thinking, mindreading, social engagement and communicating emotional cues. The blue brain is highly plastic at birth.

  • Blue brain state: A brain state that occurs when sufficient physiological resources are available to support blue brain function because the red brain is not monopolizing these resources

Bodyreading: The skill of reading another person’s level of arousal by observing their posture, quality of body movements, speed of interaction with others, voice quality, attention, facial and eye expression, and use of eye contact

Calm: In Self-Reg, a physiological and emotional state of low tension which, combined with alertness, is the ideal state for learning, social engagement and thinking

  • Knowing what calm feels like: The ability to sense when you are in a state of high-tension and what it feels like to be in low tension

Canalization: The process of developing entrenched patterns of behaviour that may or may not be adaptive

Co-regulation: Occurs when a caregiver regulates another’s physiological state via voice, facial expressions, body language, and gestures activating dynamic feedback loops up and down the vagus nerve (Porges, 2018)

Co-Reg: A shared state of calmness between individuals within which, as a result of our understanding of Self-Reg, we reframe the other’s behaviour, identify and reduce their stresses, and help them shift from maladaptive to restorative modes of self-regulation

Cortisol: A hormone released by the adrenal gland in response to stress. Cortisol regulates and influences many changes that occur in the body when the stress response system is activated, including the release and consumption of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH).

Deprived environment: A child development environment lacking in the kinds of physical, emotional, cognitive, social and cultural stimulation and experiences that are most conducive to optimal human development

Developmental manifold: The combination of genetic, environmental, social and cultural factors that affect human development

Dopamine: A neurotransmitter that helps neurons send signals to help control the brain’s reward and pleasure centres; also involved with movement and emotional responses

Down-regulate: To reduce another person’s level of arousal (or your own)

Dyad: A system that consists of two parts, e.g. parent-child, caregiver-child. Dyadic interactions are the primary platform for human development.

Dynamic systems theory: In Self-Reg, the idea that self-regulation involves all five stress domains (biological, emotion, cognitive, social and prosocial), and that all parts of that system are interdependent and affect each other

Dysregulation: Occurs when stress levels are so high that various systems for thinking and metabolic recovery are compromised. The signs of dysregulation can show up in our physical well-being, behaviour, mood and attention level.

Effortful control: A term coined by temperament researcher Mary Rothbart to describe emerging aspects of self-control in children including the ability to voluntarily manage attention, inhibit impulses and follow instructions when the child does not particularly wish to do so

Ego depletion: A state of reduced willpower or self-control and impaired cognitive ability caused by the expenditure of large amounts of energy due to excess stress

Embodied: Embodiment is the idea that the body and bodily experience play a central role in our understanding of cognitive, emotional and social ideas and experiences. In Self-Reg, this refers to an awareness of our physical state of arousal and how that affects us in the five domains of self-regulation.

Emotional sticking point: The point where a person’s actions, thinking and decision-making are overly influenced by emotions or where a strong emotion interferes unduly with cognitive or social functioning

Endorphins: Neurotransmitters known as feel-good chemicals or natural pain reducers. The release of endorphins is triggered by various activities and sensory experiences including, pain, exercise, certain aromas and laughter.

Energy: The fuel created by brain/body metabolic processes (chiefly glucose metabolism) that enables us to engage in physical, mental and emotional tasks.

Epigenetic: biological and environmental influences that can switch genes on or off, and/or affect the way genes are expressed

Exteroception: A sensitivity to stimuli originating outside of the body.

Flooded: A very high and overwhelming state of arousal resulting from the sympathetic nervous system’s strong response to very high levels of stress or stress reactivity

Floortime: DIRFloortime® is an intervention, developed by Dr. Stanley Greenspan, that is used to promote a child’s development through a playful and engaging process (often with children with ASD). Less formally, floortime refers to a style of interaction where the adult literally gets down on the floor, follows a child’s lead, joins in their emotional flow and challenges the child to be creative, curious, and spontaneous.

Five-Domain Model: Dr. Shanker’s model that details five domains—biological, emotion, cognitive, social, prosocial—that are linked and interconnected

Five-Practice Method: Dr. Shanker’s five processes (reframe, recognize, reduce, reflect, restore) for understanding stress and managing tension.

Genetic determinism: The idea that human development, intelligence and behaviour are to some extent pre-determined by a person’s genes. Genetic determination is incompatible with the science-backed Self-Reg view that genes and their expression are fluid and receptive to environmental influences.

Heightened stress reactivity: A state where the threshold for a stress-response to a stimulus is lowered and an individual has a hard time returning to baseline after a stress response

Heuristics: A rule of thumb or short-cut that we use to make a decision or solve a problem. Some of the most interesting heuristics are those that we all seem to follow, regardless of upbringing or cultural background. From a Self-Reg perspective, heuristics serve to reduce cognitive stress by diminishing the demands on working memory.

Hierarchy of stress responses: A “hierarchy” of four neural mechanisms for dealing with stress, identified by Dr. Stephen Porges:
1. Social Engagement
2. Fight-or-flight (sympathetic arousal)
3. Freeze (parasympathetic arousal)
4. Dissociation

Homeostasis: The ability of an organism or system to seek and maintain a condition of equilibrium in the face of outside influences. In stress management, it refers to the ability of the stress management system to help the body and mind return to normal calm alertness after a stressful event.

Hyperaroused: A very high state of physiological arousal. In Self-Reg, hyperaroused often refers to being in a state of arousal that is too high for the situation, task, or challenge at hand.

Hypoaroused: A low state of physiological arousal. In Self-Reg, hypoaroused often refers to being in a state of arousal that is too low for the situation, task, or challenge at hand.

HPA axis: A metabolic stress pathway by which the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland and the adrenal glands communicate and interact so that, during a fight-or-flight response, cortisol is released to help the body maintain an adequate supply of blood sugar and increase the amount of oxygenated blood flowing to the muscles in response to stress

Hypothalamus: Part of the limbic system, the hypothalamus is the master control system for many aspects of our response to stress. It also regulates various physiological functions including body temperature, thirst, sleep, sex drive, mood, and hunger.

Interbrain: A theoretical “wireless” connection between a caregiver’s brain and a baby’s brain, for the purposes of arousal regulation. The higher-order brain regulates the immature brain that cannot yet self-regulate. As children mature the Interbrain’s function changes, but it remains a potent force throughout the lifespan supporting nurturing, mutual understanding, connection and intimacy.

Interoception: The felt experience or sense of internal physiological states and what is going on inside your body

Kindled alarm: A stress alarm that is too easily triggered due to an over-reactive stress system; associated with chronic high stress and allostatic overload

Limbic system: The limbic system is a brain system that encompasses the amygdala, hippocampus, hypothalamus and nucleus accumbens. It is involved in social interaction and harmony, empathy, emotions, urges, motivation, reactive behaviours. It has its own mode of perception – neuroception – that operates “beneath the threshold of conscious awareness” scanning the environment for safety or danger.  The limbic system plays a key role in the formation of memories, and projects up to higher cortical system and down to lower midbrain and brainstem systems.

  • Going Red Brain: A limbic state in which the amygdala is hyperaroused and the subject is hypervigilant
  • Limbic alarm: Alarm triggered by neuroception when it detects a threat and triggers a midbrain reaction that mobilizes the fight-or-flight 
  • Limbic brakes: A Self-Reg metaphor that describes how a highly stressed child’s limbic system can slow down cognitive processing or impede social interaction in order to ensure that the brain and body’s energy reserves are not exhausted
  • Limbic resonance: A phenomenon in which two or more people’s limbic systems share emotions or emotional states 
  • Limbic (hyper)arousal: The limbic system is more in control of a person’s thoughts, actions, and judgments than the prefrontal cortex

Microenvironments: Spaces within spaces that meet a diverse range of self-regulation needs. Within a single room, multiple microenvironments can be used to reduce the stressors that negatively impact children’s learning and behaviour.

Mindfulness: The state of being in and fully attending to the experiences of the present moment. In Self-Reg, mindfulness is about looking non-judgmentally at not only our own mind, but also the mind of another and the feeling of calmness that comes from attending to and experiencing another person’s calmness.

Mindreading: The ability to assess and understand another person’s mental and emotional states by observing their body language, gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice and other non-verbal cues

Mindset: A set of beliefs that shape our attitudes, behaviour and expectations of ourselves and others

  • Fixed mindset: a term coined by psychologist Carol Dweck to describe the belief that most positive attributes such as intelligence and talent are fixed and that success is dependent on having these fixed attributes
  • Growth mindset: aAterm coined by psychologist Carol Dweck to describe the belief that most positive skills and attitudes are not fixed, but can be developed and/or improved throughout life
  • Self-control mindset: The view that children having problems in behaviour or attention must learn (or be forced) to inhibit their impulses
  • Self-Reg mindset: The view that many, if not most, problems with behaviour, mood and learning are due to the effects of excess stress and can therefore be improved by identifying and mitigating stressors

Mismatch theory: A theory developed by Peter Gluckman, which suggests that there is a mismatch between the human stress response system, which developed much earlier in our evolution, and our modern lifestyle, including the kinds of stressors that we deal with and our levels of physical activity

Moro reflex: A reflex seen in babies up to age 6 months in response to a sudden loss of support, where infants feel like they are falling, being startled or overstimulation. The baby throws back his or her head, extends out their arms and legs, cries, and then pulls the arms and legs back in.

Negative bias: When our perception becomes distorted due to excessive stress, which causes our limbic system to become primed to look for threats and danger everywhere. This causes a tendency for people to see threats and danger where there are none and to interpret people and experiences in a negative light.

Neoteny: The immaturity of the human brain at birth: a fundamental consequence of secondary altriciality, which illuminates the importance of the Interbrain

Nervous system: A network of nerves, organs and cells that carry messages and from the brain and spinal cord to all parts of the body. The human nervous system has three parts:

  • Autonomic: The part of the nervous system that regulates key involuntary functions such as breathing, heartbeat and digestion
  • Parasympathetic: The part of the nervous system that controls body processes during ordinary situations (rest-and-digest or feed-and-breed activities) and promotes recovery and restoration after stress
  • Sympathetic: The part of the nervous system that prepares the body for stressful or emergency situations by promoting increased arousal, including the fight-or-flight response

Neuroception: The brain and nervous system’s unconscious mechanism for scanning the environment and processing sensory information to assess threat or safety

Opioid system: A brain system that controls pain, reward and addictive behaviours. The opioid system releases chemical compounds that increase energy while creating a feeling of euphoria or pleasant sensations that reduce physical and emotional pain.

Optimal: Ideal or best for a given situation or need

Physical/emotional nexus: The connection between a person’s physical state and their emotional experience. How we feel physically affects how we experience emotions and visa-versa

Prefrontal cortex (PFC): Part of the neocortex located at the front of the brain. The PFC is involved with higher-order thinking such as planning, decision-making and social engagement.

Probabilistic epigenesis: Gilbert Gottlieb’s framework for understanding human development and behaviour, which emphasizes the reciprocity of the influence of genetics, environmental influences and experiences

Proprioception: Our ability to sense where our body is in space and where different body parts are in relation to each other

Reappraisal: The cognitive process of taking another look at a situation or experience in order to reduce stress and negative emotional impact

Red brain: A Self-Reg term for the limbic system. (See Triune Brain/paleomammalian brain.)

  • Red brain state (a.k.a. limbic state): When blue brain functioning is diminished because high levels of stress are causing disproportionate amounts of physiological resources to be diverted to support red brain functioning. In a Red Brain state, limbic arousal is heightened and fight-or-flight (Gray Brain) responses are easily triggered.

Reframing: Seeing and understanding the reasons for a child (or adult’s) behaviour in a different way. In Self-Reg, reframing is the first step of the Shanker Method®, allowing us to see that a troubling or irritating behaviour may be stress behaviour rather than misbehaviour.

Reward system: A system of brain structures that are activated by stimuli we experience as rewarding. (See dopamine)

Secondary altriciality: A uniquely human long period of early childhood dependency necessitated by the immaturity of the human brain at birth. All human babies are born “premature” and a considerable amount of brain growth takes place after birth. From altricial: hatched, or born in an undeveloped state requiring parental care and feeding.

Self-regulation: In the original psychophysiological sense, it simply refers to how we manage stress. This is said to be “maladaptive” if it constrains possibilities of growth (e.g., gaze aversion). Mindful self-regulation refers to how people manage energy expenditure, recovery, and restoration in ways that enhance growth. Mindful self-regulation requires learning to recognize and respond to stress in all its many facets—positive and negative, hidden and overt, and minor and traumatic.

Social arousal: Increased physiological arousal caused by social stimuli, includes stress associated with social interaction and the detection of threat (or safety) when the brain’s neuroceptive mechanisms are hypervigilant

Social engagement: Behaviours that reduce social and emotional distance between individuals, while promoting and supporting positive social interaction. Social engagement is the highest of the four neurally-based mechanisms humans have for dealing with stress.

Soft eyes: In Self-Reg, a phrase that describes how the compassion that you naturally feel towards people (especially children) is aided and enhanced by the Self-Reg lens which helps you see past the child’s behaviour, to the stresses that are behind the behaviour and their impact on the person’s energy and tension levels

StressThe non-specific response of the body to a demand imposed on it; also, the emotional or physical strain and tension associated with demands or adverse circumstances

  • Stress behaviour: Behaviour that is reactive or caused (versus intentional) and has excessive stress at its roots
  • Stressor: Anything that causes a brain-body stress response

Superstimulants: Agents, such as foods, that have been designed to maximize opioid release in order to stimulate dopamine activity, resulting in cravings for stimuli and experiences that can lead to maladaptive modes of self-regulation

Symbiotic arousal: Building from Margaret Mahler’s “Individuation Theory of Development”, symbiotic arousal refers to the connection and mutual cueing by which a parent influences and regulates the arousal state of an infant

Sympathetic flooding: A state of very high arousal where a child or adult is so overstressed that their sympathetic nervous system’s activity overloads the parasympathetic nervous systems’ ability to restore balance, usually resulting in extreme anger, aggression or fleeing a situation

Synaptic density: The number and density of connections between neurons (synapses) in the brain

Synaptic pruning: A process by which unnecessary synapses are eliminated in the period between early childhood and puberty

Synaptogenesis: The creation of new connections between neurons in the brain and the nervous system

Triune brain: A model developed by neuroscientist, Paul Maclean to describe three dominant evolutionary systems/structures in the human brain: the reptilian brain, the paleomammalian brain and the neocortex

  • Neocortex (a.k.a. “blue brain”): the most recently evolved brain system, which developed to support thinking, planning, listening, speaking, engaging socially and being consciously aware of what is going inside us and around us
  • Paleomammalian brain (a.k.a. “red brain”): the limbic system, which developed to deal with the complex demands of social existence: primitive emotions, spotting enemies, initiating the fight-or-flight response, strong emotions, and urges, motivation and emotional memories
  • Reptilian brain (a.k.a. “gray brain”): the oldest and most primitive system of the Triune brain model, developed to keep solitary creatures alive, and safe when threatened. It regulates basic motor and metabolic functions necessary for survival such as heart rate, breathing and body temperature.

Up-regulate: To increase another person’s level of arousal (or your own)

Vagal Tone An indicator of stress reactivity and recovery, based on the resilience and activity of the parasympathetic branch of the vagus nerve.

  • Vagus nerve A complex nerve that is involved in an array of bodily functions including heart rate, digestion and respiratory rate, and is a major component of both the parasympathetic nervous system and the social engagement system.
  • High vagal tone When the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) are in balance, enabling good recovery from sympathetic arousal.
  • Low vagal tone When the parasympathetic (stress recovery) reflex loses its resilience and the PNS cannot keep up with the demands of the SNS.

Ventral striatum: A part of the brain’s reward system consisting of the nucleus accumbens, ventromedial caudate, ventral putamen and olfactory tubercle

Virtue: Behaviour showing high moral standards. In Self-Reg, the development of virtue is supported and enhanced by blue brain red brain balance, good relationships and prosocial messages communicated via the Interbrain.


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