Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Power of Helping: Supporting Self Regulation

"Connection is the energy that is created between people when they feel seen, heard and valued - when they can give and receive without judgement" - Brene Brown


We taught a student in our classroom who we have been observing and brainstorming about how we can support her in self regulating. We wanted to share her story and how she has transformed in her ability to self regulate over two years in our classroom. 

When entering school, as a team we recognized this students body often appeared tense. She often spoke about feeling tired, hungry, and would often cry without being able to verbalize why. We noticed that she had difficulty with transitions and social interactions with peers. She would often hide under tables or refuse to join in small or large group activities. 

Reframe the Behaviour:
Instead of viewing her behaviours as intentional misbehaviour, we began to think about the 5 domains (biological, emotional, cognitive, social, and prosocial). We recognized many stresses in all of the domains that could be adding to her own stress cycle. 

Recognize the Stressors:
Some of the stressors that we immediately recognized were: tired (potentially lack of sleep), hungry (possible loss of appetite), isolation from peers and educators, expression of extreme mood swings and emotions. 

Reduce the Stress:
While brainstorming ways to reduce stressors, we thought carefully about things that we noticed were supporting her in feeling calm. For example, expressing herself artistically (in the dance studio, art studio, or listening to music). She also was drawn to the responsibility of helping others in the classroom. 

We also at this point, asked the family to come in to collaborate and brainstorm with us. We wanted to learn more about her family interactions and whether or not she was expressing any concerns at home. Having a strong relationship with our families supports us in approaching these conversations as a team and they were able to provide us with insight into further stressors that may be impacted her day to day activities (e.g., one parent was going away for a few months to visit family in another country). 

Reflect:
Making notes on any behaviours that we noticed allowed us to reflect on the times of day and the situations that seemed to trigger some of her behaviours related to her stress level. To be proactive, we had conversations with her and found ways to anticipate those changes to support her.

Respond:
We learned that transitions were very challenging of her, so we often found that providing her with multiple prompts before transitioning helped her to prepare mentally. We also would read her body language and on days when we sensed that she may need further support, we asked her to help with different jobs in the classroom to change her state (e.g., washing the dishes, taking out mailbags during morning routine). 




Over a two year period, we saw gradual changes and a shift in this student’s ability to regulate independently. In order to support students in self regulation, you often have to co-regulate with them in order for them to understand and feel how their emotions and states can change. Many children are unaware of what it feels like to be calm, alert, and ready to learn. 

This is why it is SO important to put “time in” with children and follow through with your interactions so that they can truly process and understand what is happening. It’s not just giving them language and walking away to support another student, it does take a lot of time to foster the understanding of the meaning of their words and actions. 

We noticed with this student and then later with others that the simple act of “helping” can be transformative. We found by providing them with opportunities to display empathy with their peers that they in turn received positive emotional feedback that they were seeking. For example, asking her to help with a child who needed support in understanding the flow of the day. She used the visual schedule and invited her peer to play alongside her providing him with cues to support the upcoming transitions. 

In addition to helping others, our students often seek opportunities to help in cleaning and organizing the classroom. We have students who wash the dishes, clean the tables or shelves, organize classroom materials, hand out mailbags, or roll and label paintings. These simple acts appear to support children in feeling calm and in self regulating. Is it that these jobs make them feel useful or helpful? Does helping distract their worries? Is there actually something else to the acts of helping that is supporting them (e.g., sensory aspect in washing dishes or scrubbing a table)? 




Both children and adults always want to feel appreciated and validated, it’s human nature. These acts of helping bring forth those feelings and we have seen how powerful they can be in supporting our children this year. 


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