The British Weather…
There is nothing more predictable about the British weather than change, and we have certainly seen plenty of that this summer, from the hottest temperatures recorded on the planet, to the wettest July on record. From one day to the next it is not possible to plan as the weather will make a difference, not necessarily to what we do, but certainly how we do it.
Change can be Challenging:
Change is a part of life, but for many children, change can be particularly challenging. The children we teach and care for have been through so much change in their little lives, and we are seeing the impact in our schools and settings. Children are joining us with less maturity, less language and … less potential for self-regulation, at least for the moment.
Starting a new term or a new school or setting is simply one more change and this can be unsettling. This change is out of their control. When things are new this can be overwhelming, this can cause anxiety and stress; strange feelings inside that can cause a child to behave in a way which is not only challenging for them, but for others around them.
Seeking out Stability:
Children will test boundaries, this can in itself be frustrating. But as a little fellow said when I once asked him ‘Why are you pushing the boundaries?’ His response was ‘I am not pushing them, I am just checking where they are’ This really made me think, reflect and reconsider my response. He was seeking out stability in order to help him feel safe, feel secure.
Struggling with Self-regulation? Can you Spot the Signs?
Spotting the signs of a child feeling unsettled and uncertain is one of the first steps we can take, even before self-regulation becomes an issue. Whether you work with the littlest children in an early years setting, in a school or with children in foster care it is so important to spot the signs.
Physical Needs, Sensory Signals:
When you rev up your radar, spotting the signs, even the subtle ones, is not as tricky as it might seem. Start before the day even begins- position yourself to be able to see the child as they are arriving. What is their body language? What is the body language of their adult? The bigger movements, the bigger behaviours are easy to see, sometimes far too easy. But it’s the little things I am suggesting you look out for. Are they licking their lips or are they glued to their grown-up. These things would suggest they are anxious. If they are sitting, are they tapping their foot or fiddling with their fingers? Are they seeking out sensory soothing, rubbing something silky or chewing on their sleeve?
I am not suggesting you spot these and try to stop them, certainly not, but as with the weather, spotting these subtleties allows you to anticipate, to draw on the bank of strategies that you have to hand, ready for these situations. Spotting these subtle signals can also give us a clue as to what is going on for the child. In anticipating, we save ourselves the pain and the problem of a child’s struggles becoming a behaviour that later needs to be ‘managed’. We also save a lot of stress for the child themselves. Everybody wins!
Picking up the Pieces:
So many of the strategies we have been handed historically are there to help us pick up the pieces after a problem has happened. ABC- Antecedent, Behaviour, Consequence is still regularly recommended to us, by external experts and even education psychologists. The ABC strategy does not begin with ‘anticipate’, instead it encourages us to reflect on the ‘antecedent’ – what came before the behaviour - past tense.
Getting it Right for our Children- and the Adults around Them:
The frustrating thing is, that the insightful, education psychologist who developed this strategy, no longer recommends it. It still serves a purpose- to look back, to analyse a crisis, but how much better it is to be able to anticipate, to spot the signs and potentially avert the crisis. I am privileged to have worked with Dr Sonya Hinton EP over many years and, even into her eighties she is still passionate about getting it right for our children, helping them and the adults around them in growing great behaviours. She has won a UNESCO award for her work with Sabre Education supporting early years and schools in Uganda, and, on her days off she is kind enough to join me, sometimes at my training days such as ‘Supporting those who Struggle with Self-Regulation’.
Instead of Antecedent, Behaviour Consequence, Sonya Hinton EP now recommends:
The second A – ‘Avoid’ in this is a strategy that Sonya and I added after one of our thought-provoking professional conversations.
Avoiding the Storms - Jamie’s Story:
But let’s get back to how we can help to support those struggling with self-regulation. By anticipating, having a strong transition, we will better know what might be tricky for that child. If we know what helps them, and who helps them, a bit like the weather, this information can help us to spot the signs, reduce the struggles and avoid the storms.
Here is just one example: A little boy aged 6, let’s call him Jamie, struggled with large numbers of children. His group were heading into the hall. His key person was able to anticipate, to spot the signs and she saw him begin to move his weight from one foot to the other. She considered her choices and responded; she moved a little nearer to him. He was still shifting his weight and as she got closer, she saw that his eyes were flitting around the room, looking at all corners, specifically- at all exits.
Jamie had some underlying, deep-seated anxieties- likely connected to the trauma he had experienced earlier in his life. Now he was settled with a foster family, people were getting to know, not just how to respond and repair when his behaviours became challenging, but also what he connected with, what helped him come back to calm. Rather than waiting for Jamie’s anxieties to develop into actions, his warm and wise T.A. took Jamie’s hand, gave him a smile and a knowing nod and took him to his favourite place- the fuse box! She avoided the storm! Just simply looking at the wires, the switches and the fuses helped Jamie to feel a little less stressed. When the stress had subsided, when he was ready, it gave his special someone the opportunity to talk, firstly about the fuses and then about, what might help him feel brave enough to step just inside the hall, one tiny step at a time. His key person would always be there, just close enough for him to connect - if he felt he needed it.
Finding the Fuse Box:
So, by finding the fuse box, have we supported Jamie with his self-regulation? Just a little; Self-regulation, as it says in the Five Fundamentals for Brilliant Sustainable Behaviours - is the longest journey, but with small steps along the way, supported by someone who knows him well, Jamie will gradually grow stronger, feel more secure. Jamie’s day was a little better, a little brighter, not to mention that of those around him. This very action is such a positive example of co-regulation, someone there to support, not always to step in but sometimes to step back while Jamie begins to take those steps towards self-regulation for himself.
5 Steps for Supporting those who Struggle with Self -Regulation by Ali McClure
As a teacher, parent and SENCo with young children, I still live and breathe these experiences. We are good at spotting the storms, but we may not notice how often we are using our skills and strategies to avert them, to avoid them.
Take time to reflect on your practice - there will be tiny things that you do that make a big difference and on a day-to-day basis avoid so many storms. In doing this and anticipating you are supporting all your children, including those who struggle with self-regulation.
If you would like to know more, you can join Ali in person for Supporting Those Who Struggle With Self-Regulation at Community Playthings (including complementary lunch and a factory tour)
You can download the eBook for the World Forum accredited
‘FingerTips - Reflective learners talking tool - The language of learning for life’
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Thank you for all you do