What’s Different (and So Great) About Self-Reg

As a journalist, researcher and father, I have been studying the fascinating, messy world of child development for 30 years. I’ve had many aha moments, and surprising insights over the years, but in the past five years or so I’ve found that Self-Reg has unlocked more mysteries and puzzlements than any other theory or framework.

Here are a few of my thoughts about what’s different, and particularly useful, about Self-Reg.

Self-Reg expands our thinking about stress in important and useful ways.

Experts have been talking about the importance of stress management, and advising people on how to do it, for a long time. Yet I haven’t seen many indications that most people are getting better at dealing with stress, which suggests the standard approaches haven’t worked that well for a lot of people.

Self-Reg moves stress management forward by taking a broader look at stress, in various areas of experience (biological, emotion, cognitive, social, prosocial). It also helps us see beyond the idea of stress as adverse or “toxic” experiences. Self-Reg helps people understand other types of other stress that, while they may be less acute than toxic stress, can substantially affect people’s day-to-day functioning. One example is hidden stressors — stressors that most people don’t even think of as stressors, but still have negative impacts. Another example is “stress cycles,” which happen when stressors from different domains become interlocked and mutually reinforcing in a way that drains energy and leads to ongoing and increasing feelings of stress and tension.

Many approaches focus primarily on cognitive aspects of dealing with stress. Self-Reg looks at other domains of experience and functioning as well. 

There is a major cognitive aspect to any type of learning, including Self-Reg. The Self-Reg difference is that many educational methods primarily try to help people harness their thinking power to find stress solutions such as learning to prioritize, learning to say no, or solving problems that are creating stress. There’s nothing wrong with those approaches…except when your cognitive functioning is compromised by stress from other domains. Self-Reg opens up new possibilities by helping people look at the biological, emotion, social and prosocial domains and how stressors in different domains impact with each other.

Many approaches to stress management focus on coping. Self-Reg is less focused on coping, and more focused on understanding stress more deeply, and things like the importance of recovery and restoration of energy that we burn in dealing with stress. 

Again, nothing wrong with coping. It’s important—necessary at times—but coping burns a lot of energy. If you don’t have ways of restoring that energy, or reducing the stress that drains your energy in the first place, you’re going to be doing a lot of coping—and energy-burning. That can put you in a state of low energy that leaves you more vulnerable to the negative effects of stress. Understanding when we need to restore energy and reduce tension, and how to do it, is core in Self-Reg. This is a huge contribution to the practice of stress management.

Self-Reg reinforces and expands our understanding of important child development issues that people have been trying to address for many years.

Self-Reg’s focus on the brain/body science of stress can help us disentangle puzzles and questions related to:

  • Attachment: Why do some children and parents have attachment problems, even in seemingly optimal circumstances?
  • Executive Functions (EF): Why do some kids, often those who have the most trouble with EF, not respond well to the usual tried and true efforts to build EF?
  • Empathy: Why do some children appear to lack the empathy that comes fairly naturally to other children?
  • Behaviour: Why do positive discipline techniques work so poorly with some children and in some situations?

When addressing any of these issues, it’s a great idea to look beyond the role of inadequate parenting, and “bad” kids, to the role that a child’s (and parent’s or teacher’s) day-to-day stress and stress reactivity might be causing or contributing to the problem. At least, I don’t see how it could hurt.

Self-Reg helps people really buy into and act on the importance of caring for themselves by addressing their own stress. 

Sometimes I think this may be the biggest single impact of Self-Reg, we’ve seen thus far. Many people come Self-Reg looking for new ways to understand and help children, and they are surprised, and frankly, energized, to find out how much they learn about understanding and helping themselves.People who take TMC’s Foundations courses often say that their big “aha moment” was really getting in touch with their own stress and what to do about it. It’s not that they were oblivious to stress management and self-care before. But learning about the brain/body science of stress, and how our stress affects us, and others, seems to unlock personal stress management for a lot of people. The bonus is, they are also amazed to learn the extent to which dealing with their own stress enables them to better support and nurture the children they love and work with.

I could go on, but I’d like to see others weigh in. What do you find different, and uniquely beneficial about Self-Reg?

John has had three distinct careers that have blended together at times: roots musician, stay-at-home father and freelance writer. A former long-time columnist and feature writer for Today’s Parent, John now specializes in knowledge translation, blogging and writing for non-profit organizations like The MEHRIT Centre, The Psychology Foundation of Canada and Dad Central Ontario.
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