Self Regulation for Children

Self regulation or the energy to control yourself when coping with the stress of life is a core skill for everyone. A neuroscience term for self regulation is cortical modulation. We can “coach” ourselves into self control by problem solving the expectations of the environment and having an awareness of an appropriate coping technique that is socially acceptable. This happens in the cortex or upper part of the brain in adults.
Who is the coach for the child? We adults are! Children are dependent on adults as coaches for self regulation. An infant relies on an adult to relieve the stress of discomfort from loneliness, hunger, temperature, soiled pants, etc. when the adult is attuned to the child’s cues and provides the loving touch, voice, smile, and soothing movement that Dr. Bruce Perry refers as the “somatosensory bath”. This type of regulation is relationship dependent and forms the bonds of attachment. The infant’s regulation actually occurs in the lower parts of the brain vs. the cortex. An infant’s cortex is not fully matured so they do not have the capacity to calm themselves like adults. The lower parts of the brain receive the external sensory signals from the environment as well as the internal sensory signals. In this way infants develop trust in the adult caregiver. They feel secure and safe by the positive interaction. When this occurs repeatedly over time, especially in the first three years of life, a child develops the capacity to calm themselves by the ongoing interactive regulation by the caregiver. They also develop the internal feelings of positive regard for themselves.

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