This is the third blog post in our series on Self-Reg. Our first blog post explained what self-regulation and stress is, and how caregivers can help children with managing their stress. Our second blog post was about self-regulation and the Interbrain (the communication channel between a caregiver and a child). Now we want to provide tools to help with Emotional Regulation.
According to Dr. Stuart Shanker, emotional regulation is “standardly defined as monitoring, evaluating and modifying one’s emotions.” We need to work against our natural response to suppress emotions we find disturbing or uncomfortable but teach children to feel those emotions fully. An example Shanker gives in his book Self-Reg (2016) is when a child learns about death and come to the realization that the people close to him will one day die. Instead of brushing this off with a “Don’t worry honey, this won’t happen for a long time”, help them to feel this emotion. Encourage them to talk about how they would feel if someone close to them die. If they draw a picture showing death, talk them through what they’re feeling and why they drew this picture instead of being scare of the meaning behind these pictures.
To save the day, Dr. Shanker has made three “R’s” of Emotional Regulation to help us remember them: recognize, reduce and restore. Recognize the signs of escalating stress. Reduce the stress. Restore energy. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, if this was the case, Dr. Stuart Shanker would be out of a job. What we need do as parents and child care providers is to practice these three R’s with our children so they can use these tools on their own.
For each of the R’s, it is important to better understand your child so you can recognize the stress, know what calms them to reduce the stress and what they need to restore the energy. For example, my niece and nephew go to the same daycare and are with each other all day long. When they get home from daycare and my sister and her husband are preparing dinner, the children usually play. Some days they play really well together, other days they are screaming at each other. For my niece, my sister recognizes when she is stressed when she starts to yell, “no!” She has a really good vocabulary but when she goes straight to “no!” without explaining herself, my sister knows she stressed. My sister will encourage her to go up to room to play on her own and to have space from her brother. Usually at this time dinner is ready and she can eat to restore some of her energy.
As mentioned in our previous blog posts, to successfully incorporate the three R’s in your household, your Au Pair must also be on board. The best way for her to help your child is understand them and their needs. They need to be able to follow the three R’s for your child to successfully use them as a tool.