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The more that you learn about Self-Reg, the more that it seems to govern your views of everything in your life. Sometimes I’m sure that Stuart Shanker‘s questions of, “Why?” and “Why now?” never leave my head. And yet, no matter how much we’ve learned about Self-Reg, sometimes we miss the signs of dysregulation … in others and in ourselves. Yesterday was one of those days!

At the time, I wasn’t even thinking about self-regulation. It was about 2:30 in the afternoon, and we were slowly tidying up areas of the classroom with our students. Since my last blog post, this has been our preferred method of clean up, and the longer tidy up seems to be working. A couple of children were eager to help, and one of them started to pick up some paper on the floor. He happened to pick up and throw out one of the little people that a group of students were using for their plasticine play. Two of the children got really mad at him. Like screaming, pushing, cheering “We’re not going to be friends with you!” mad. I happened to be walking by when this happened, and I intervened. I said that this “was mean,” and I asked the little boy how he felt. When he said, “Sad,” I mentioned to the two girls that their words were “really unkind,” and that they needed to apologize. One child took a few minutes to think about it, and said, “Sorry!” The other child, crossed her arms, pouted her lip, and started to cry.

I’m not going to say that what I did next was right. It probably wasn’t. But I told her that she could cry because what she said and did were not very nice. Then I walked away. I left her standing in the same spot for about 5 minutes, and I started to help clean up elsewhere. The little girl who just apologized went up to try and comfort her friend: she rubbed her back and gave her a hug. But this child kept crying. This was when I wandered back to the child. I saw her lunch still sitting on the table, so I led her over to the table and suggested something to eat. She shook her head! Then in the midst of her crying, she looked at me and said, “I need a hug!”

And so, despite having more to clean up around the room and other children to support, I sat down at the eating table, she leaned into me, and I hugged her. I rubbed her back, she closed her eyes, and her friend from before plus the child that she got angry with, came over to give her a hug. She was wrapped in hugs. I sat at the eating table for close to 10 minutes. I spoke quietly to the other children there, and surveyed the room. I even recorded a short video, which I reflected on afterwards, as I took her over to the little sofa for a nap (she fell asleep in my arms) and went to clean up. It was then that my teaching partner, Paula, said the words that stuck with me ever since: “She might have been the one that was dysregulated, but in the end, she co-regulated you.”

What? This couldn’t be true, and yet, maybe it was. Paula noted the signs of stress in me that I missed.

  • I was chewing on my lanyard more than I usually do.
  • I was wandering around the room instead of staying focused on a group of students.

With our kindergarten classroom beside another kindergarten room — with no full wall in between us — noise is always an issue. Usually I become accustomed to it and it doesn’t bother me, but it was yesterday. I was really aware of the volume.

  • Maybe I was spending more time closer to the wall where it was louder. 
  • Maybe I noticed how the volume in one room was impacting on the volume in the other.
  • Maybe it was because more children were wandering, so the settled feeling that makes me feel better, wasn’t happening. Is this because I was less settled? It’s possible.
  • Maybe it’s because our most challenging students were all very dysregulated. I found myself managing more behaviour than I was engaging with kids, and that always bothers me. Now once again, I could question if my dysregulation was causing theirs, or vice versa.

In the end, maybe I was more dysregulated than I realized, and without a person to recognize those signs in me, I would have completely missed them. Feeling as I did though, did I respond more quickly and less empathetically to what was really a small problem between four-year-olds? I’m not saying that I like screaming, pushing, and unkind words, but is this sometimes developmentally appropriate problem solving for kids of this age? If I didn’t intervene, would they have solved the problem on their own? The child that was pushed was over with me hugging and comforting the little girl who was so upset. He forgot the issue and wasn’t looking for an apology. He just wanted to make his friend feel better. From the little girl’s perspective, he ruined her work. Again unintentionally … but was this a case of where she needed empathy instead of punishment? 

I went home last night thinking, Self-Reg is hard. I felt terrible for making a child cry — not on purpose, but still the outcome. We all have bad days, and maybe yesterday was one of mine. I hope that I remember these feelings when a child has this same kind of dysregulated day. How might yesterday’s experience make me respond differently the next time? Have you had a similar experience before, and what did you learn as a result? Once again, I’m reminded of Stuart Shanker‘s thinking around Self-Reg: no matter how much we may have learned, the learning never stops.