Three Signs My 8 Year Old is Learning Self-Reg

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

I hear a child shriek outside my front window and run outside, Siena right behind me. A little boy has fallen off his bike. His sister is helping him get up and he’s wailing. He’s seven she is maybe 11. I’ve never seen them before. I see that he’s got bleeding scrapes on his hand, knee and elbow but nothing serious. But he’s so upset. I ask him if he wants me to get a cold cloth. He slowly nods his head and I go to get a washcloth and some ice while Siena and his sister gradually bring him to my front step. After two or three minutes he stops crying. Siena gets him a baggie full of ice and a toy and I just stay with him. After about ten minutes the boy and his sister leave. I ask Siena if she saw what I was trying to do. She looks at me and says, “Yeah mom, you were trying to turn off his amygdala.”

I smile. My daughter is learning Self-Reg.

Self-Reg Triune Brain

1. During this little “crisis”, Siena was very calm and supportive, trying to help in any way she could. As Stuart Shanker says, “Calm begets calm”. Limbic resonance. The little boy was surrounded by calm and caring not just from the adult but from Siena and his sister too. The key here was that knowing when he was ready to go back on his bike for home was not something I decided. He showed us when he was ready. It was a matter of reading the signs and recognizing when his “blue brain*” was back online.
2. Siena got that I was trying to soothe the boy’s limbic system so it would turn off the limbic alarm.It wasn’t just her use of a word like “amygdala” (which, by the way, she used to pronounce as a “digda” when she was younger). It’s that she clearly understood exactly what I was doing. Falling off the bike had sent his brain and body into a fight or flight stress response (directed by the limbic system). She understood that (after establishing that the boy wasn’t seriously injured) our first priority was to calm that response.

Hierarchy of stress

3. Siena got that I was “doing Self-Reg.” She recognized my behaviour, not just as something I talked to her about fairly regularly, but as something that we lived every day in various ways. Does that mean she could explain Shanker Self-Reg? No, probably not. But the true sign of “getting it” is when you move past the head knowledge and begin practicing Self-Reg.

I know there is no recipe or program for teaching my daughter Self-Reg. It’s lots of little moments: lots of big hugs when she needed those, lots of letting her know the cool Self-Reg moments I noticed in her. I am far from perfect in the Self-Reg arena of my own everyday life, but I am learning. And what a thrill to see my daughter is too.

*The “blue brain” is a metaphor for the neocortex, the newest part of our brain, as expressed in neuroscientist Paul MacLean’s Triune Brain theory.

Dr. Susan Hopkins is the Executive Director of Dr. Stuart Shanker's organization, Susan has been a teacher, school administrator, inclusive schooling coordinator, curriculum developer, educational researcher, and educational leader. She has worked in every area of education from the early years to post-secondary, from remote Northern schools to the Department of Education, and across contexts that include Italy and the Northwest Territories.
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