The universe has give child care a beautiful gift in the package of Dr. Stuart Shanker. Shanker is a Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and Psychology at York University and the CEO of the MEHRIT Centre, Ltd. Stuart has also worked with the government of Canada to help regulate child care. So, why is he such an important person in the child care world? He has clearly explained the importance of self-regulation in children. Shanker’s mantra is, “Children do well when they can” and this is something we will mention again and again in further blog posts because it’s such an important reminder. There is no such thing as a “bad child”. In this blog post, we will explain further what self-regulation is and why it is important for children.

What is “self-regulation”?

According to Shanker, self-regulation is how hard a child has to work to deal with the stresses in their lives. Seems simple enough, as long as we know what a stress is for a child. Shanker explains that stress is anything that requires the brain to burn energy. Now that seems a bit more difficult to absorb. Anything that requires the brain to burn energy? So thinking could be a stress? What about eating? Blinking? According to Shanker and his team, yes! It’s how we regulate these stresses that determines our behaviour.

Let’s break this down…

A stress is anything that requires the brain to burn energy, correct? Meaning that a stress to one child is not the same to another. One child may be overly sensitive to lighting and has to burn a lot of energy to be in a classroom because the florescent lights are affecting them more than other children. When it comes time for that child to focus on reading, another stress that burns energy, they may not have enough energy left to concentrate on this task.

Colours can be another stress. Have you ever seen a dress designed with thick, contrasting lines? It can be hard on the eyes when the dress is swaying around. Or walked into a room that is painted bright red? This can make the eyes sore.

Food texture can be another stress. A lot of adults think that children are picky eaters and brats when they don’t eat a certain food. When actually this is a stress for that child that they cannot regulate. Ever bitten into a mealy apple? That is not a nice feeling and you do not have anybody yelling at you to finish that bite.

Smells can be a stress. Think about how you feel when someone walks past with too much perfume or someone who is a chain smoker? It’s not a pleasant feeling!

How can we help our children?

Children learn self-regulation with the help of child care providers. They need someone who can support them during their moments when they do not have any more energy left to deal with their stresses. They have to be given options to help deal with stresses. This is an example that many people can relate to: Hangry. Hangry happens when our depletion of nutrition and increase in hungry turns our moods sour. The stress of hunger is using a lot of our energy, not leaving much left for being pleasant. To avoid this with children, if one of their stresses is hunger, then be sure to put an apple or granola bar in their backpack that they can access at anytime.

This is a topic that we will be talking about all month. Be sure to keep an eye out for our next blog post: What can child care providers do to help with self-regulation?