Woman with two young children running outdoors smilingThis is the second in a series of posts on trauma and trauma informed culture. Look for future posts from both FCS bloggers and some special guest bloggers over the next several months! This month’s post was written by Debra Schartz-Robinson, LSCSW, the Director of Clinical Services on the Youthville residential campus in Dodge City.

What is self-regulation?

Self-regulation is one of the six core strengths identified by Dr. Bruce Perry in his Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics (NMT). It is the ability to notice and control primary urges such as hunger and sleep, as well as feelings such as frustration, anger and fear. Developing and maintaining this strength is a lifelong process that is connected to the relationship between an infant and caregiver. Healthy growth depends on the child’s experience of this relationship and the maturation of the brain.

Why self-regulation is important

The ability to put a thought between an impulse and the action taken is an essential life skill. This skill is critical in building relationships, tolerating differences and being aware of the needs of others. We are not born with this skill. It must be learned, and the easiest, most natural time to learn is in early infancy through attuned care giving from a parent who is skilled at regulating their own emotions.

Signs of struggle

Children who do not develop the skill of self-regulation will have problems sustaining friendships, learning and controlling their behavior. They are more likely to express anger through physical aggression, express themselves in ways that are hurtful to others and to over react to stimuli in the environment. In general, children who struggle with self-regulation are more reactive, immature, impressionable and more easily overwhelmed by threats and violence. Here are some examples:

  • Does poorly in unstructured or free time
  • Struggles with transitions
  • Has difficulty with attention, listening and acquiring new skills
  • Acts impulsively
  • Lashes out at others without warning
  • Sensitive to criticism
  • Struggles in group activities
  • Often expresses hurt or anger by acting out aggressively

What you can do to help increase self-regulation

  • Model self-control with your words and actions
  • Step in quickly to stop any hurtful action or language that you hear
  • Teach conflict resolution skills
  • Praise the youth when you see the slightest effort toward thoughtful actions, remarks, reactions and problem-solving skills.
  • Have the youth participate in patterned repetitive activities to stimulate growth in the lower brain
  • Understand the youth’s triggers and remove stimuli from the environment
  • Pre-teach with the youth before taking them into potentially triggering or highly stimulating environments
  • Develop rituals around transitions
  • Provide structure and predictability

Self-regulation is a universal set of skills that helps us manage our responses to things that happen in life. Learning to effectively regulate feelings thoughts and behaviors can significantly improve one’s quality of life. Kids are happier when they are emotionally regulated, and you will be, too!

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