Self-Reg and the Prosocial Domain

Self-Reg for parents, photo of man and son sitting on the grass together


  • 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.

Dr. Stuart Shanker is a Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and Psychology from York University and the Founder & Visionary of The MEHRIT Centre, Ltd. Stuart has served as an advisor on early child development to government organizations across Canada and the US, and in countries around the world. Dr. Shanker also blogs for Psychology Today