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The Social Domain: supporting self-regulation across the five domains

Shanker Self-Reg® helps us consider self-regulation and stress across five interrelated domains: biological, emotion, cognitive, social and prosocial. In this blog we are going to explore the Social Domain.

Stress in this domain is caused by difficulty picking up on social cues, and understanding the effect of one’s own behaviour on others. Stressors in the Social Domain often interact with and multiply stressors in the other four domains of Self-Reg. Some stressors that can impact the this domain include peer pressure, public speaking, bullying, being excluded, meeting someone new, and more.

Let’s explore The Social Domain further:

  • Problems in the social domain lie in the arousal created by the system that serves as a child’s first line of defense for dealing with stress. This is the social engagement system.
  • Urging a child try harder in the social domain can make the child even more tense and unsure of themselves in social situations.
  • What we need to understand is, what we can do to enhance the capacity for connectedness in kids who find social interaction stressful.
  • If a fight-or-flight reaction to social situations becomes entrenched, the child will shy away from what they most desperately need when they are frightened or anxious. And what they need is the calming presence of a caregiver or other children.
  • Turning inward is what is really involved if we go into fight-or-flight. The brain has shifted to the so-called “survival brain.”
  • It is extremely hard for children to use words to communicate when they are feeling this way.

What happens when social stress is excessive:

  • In fight-or-flight, even the most benign of social acts can be interpreted as a threat. These sorts of distortions are a sign that a child has gone into a state of low energy/high tension. The child’s immediate need is to be soothed and caregivers need to re-establish the child’s sense of safety.
  • “Threats” come in all shapes and sizes. Some threats are very easy to define. Sometimes the threat is simply a look, a vocalization, a gesture, a movement. Or, alternatively, the lack of a look, a vocalization, a gesture, a movement.
  • When a child feels threatened the result can be sympathetic flooding (anger and aggression, flight or desertion). It can also be parasympathetic flooding (withdrawal, paralysis).
  • A child will find themselves overwhelmed by situations that outstrip their social abilities. If this happens they will likely respond aggressively or withdraw from such situations.
  • The problem for such a child may be that they can’t “read” what other children are feeling from their faces, or have trouble following conversational twists and turns. They don’t understand why what they said or did, and elicited a fear or anger response on the face of the child they were engaging with. Everyone in the group seems to be on the same page except them; everyone laughs at the joke except them.
  • Children with problems in the social domain need to learn to do Self-Reg in social situations. Because, first and foremost they have to learn what they can do to feel safe.
  • Nature’s mechanism for socialization in the early years is play.

Examples of Stressors in the Social Domain:

Stressors in the Social Domain, an illustration by Kristin Wiens. Graphic includes stressors such as confrontation, peer pressure, group work, public speaking, birthday parties, a new school, social media, eating slowly in a fast-eating world, raising your hand in class and meeting someone new.

Stressors in the Social Domain, an illustration by Kristin Wiens

Continue the Self-Reg Learning:

Self-Reg Foundations Certificate Program

Self-Reg Framework 101 (individual access)

Previous Blog in Series: The Self-Reg Framework: The Cognitive Domain

Next Blog in Series: The Self-Reg Framework: The Prosocial Domain