Self-regulation starts with self-awareness.
Have you ever thought about it?
We can’t ask ourselves or our kids to control that which they do not see, any more than we can ask a colorblind person to match the colors or someone listening to loud music to respond to verbal commands. It doesn’t work.
And yet, I have been guilty of expecting my kids to do just that. This last couple years, as we’ve come to understand more about our kids and how they tick, our approach has changed.
I am CRAZY proud of my sensory kids and how much more comfortable they’ve become with various sensory triggers. In the last year, we have learned to handle vacuum noises, air hand dryers, and blenders. We have been able to take our kids to the fireworks for the first time, and last month we actually took them to a live show — and had a great experience!
Earmuffs. (aff. link on pic)
We went from full-on meltdowns to offers to help.
They ask to use the vacuum and to push buttons on the blender.
My kids now ask to use the hand dryers (one of the three still wants me to cover her ears, but she does it).
You know what changed? We started acknowledging our kids’ reactions as valid and giving them tools to self-regulate. We didn’t force them to stay next to the really loud sounds until they got over it – we gave them the earmuffs and space, and they approached us when we were ready.
A couple weeks ago, we went to a family acrobatics/juggling show. I had selected our seats carefully, and I packed the kids’ earmuffs. J, who is 7, didn’t use them. A & E both wore theirs part of the time, adjusting for themselves when they thought they needed it.
It gives them a modicum of control.
This year, a large part of our focus has been those Executive Functioning skills. the ability to plan, regulate, organize yourself in the day-to-day activities of life.
I’ve been working through
And reading everything The OT Toolbox puts out about executive function, self-regulation.
We’ve been playing lots of board games, card games, and movement games (like Mother May I).
We’ve been talking about possible reactions to different scenarios, modeling having a choice of how we respond.
We’ve been strengthening pathways to the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain where reason and logic lie).
And we’ve been listening to our kids – asking them to pay attention to their bodies and the signals they’re getting.
Just like awareness of toileting needs precedes toilet training, awareness of hunger precedes appropriate food portioning, awareness of time precedes activity planning, and more.
There’s a really good post by the Child & Nature Alliance of Canada that’s been going around about the phrase “be careful”. The thing is – so often, kids don’t know what we’re actually telling them to be careful of. They probably would be careful if they saw the danger as we do. We need to point out what in particular they should be aware of.
When I started Driver’s Ed, the teacher projected a slide. In it were various road hazards, cars on the road, cars waiting to turn, etc. He started calling us up, one by one, to point out what we thought we should be paying attention to. The answers were all over the place.
The exercise, though more than 20 years ago, made an impression on me, as I realized how we can only react to that of which we are aware.
That’s a gift we can give our kids, as well. We can recognize that they don’t see the world through our lenses (which is not necessarily a bad thing!), and that in order to make wise choices they first need to be able to see their options, and process them, in an environment that is safe, supportive, and not overwhelming.
This post is the 2nd in a series I’m calling “Lessons in Adulting”. Click here to read the first installment!