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Psychiatrist Jean Clinton has been an internationally renowned expert and advocate for children’s mental health for over 30 years. We were thrilled to have Dr. Clinton at our Self-Reg Summer Symposium once again last summer. In her keynote address, Dr. Clinton drew from her wealth of experience and knowledge to address the question: How can Self-Reg be the foundation for mental well-being? Here are some of the key points she made.

Mental well-being is not just the absence of mental illness. As First Nations teachings point out, mental well-being means having a sense of purpose, hope, belonging and meaning in our daily lives.

Mental well-being starts with relationships. “The brain is a social organ, wired to connect,” Dr. Clinton said. “The modern human brain’s primary environment is our matrix of social relationships.”

Self-Reg gives us a new lens for understanding children’s learning and development by looking at the child’s environment (both internal and external) and their experience – including their relationships:

  • how the Interbrain, and the right-brain to right-brain communication it enables, works for individual children.
  • how children’s experiences of stress, energy and tension affect their behaviour and mood, and what we can do about that.

Self-Reg gives educators and parents ways to support children struggling with issues like anxiety.In a 2011-2012 Toronto District School Board survey of students, close to half of respondents said they had missed school because of anxiety. “We will never have enough professionals to treat that many kids,” Dr. Clinton said. “So we need to use Self-Reg to teach them how to handle the stress, tension and energy that affect their experience of anxious feelings.”

Self-Reg can support students’ resilience. “When I think about resilience, I don’t think of it as a characteristic of the person,” Dr. Clinton said. “I think about other people understanding and supporting you and also being able to navigate to resources and then being able to use them. I see so many kids who are stacked up with resources and then they don’t want them.”

Humans are best able to reach their potential when they feel safe, significant and situated (having a sense of purpose and direction) in their relationships and environment, according to leadership expert, Stephen de Groot. “In a Self-Reg Haven we want everyone to feel safe and situated,” Dr. Clinton said. “When adults act as stress detectives for children, it shows children that they are significant.”

Self-Reg helps us understand childrens’ troubling behaviour more deeply. “Understanding the ‘function’ of behaviour, as many people have been taught to do, is a start,” Dr. Clinton said. “But it’s not enough. We need to go deeper and understand why.”

We look forward to more of Dr. Jean’s words of wisdom in the future.