Everyone has had a bad day! It may have been caused by something that happened at home or on your way to work or school. Maybe it was a family crisis, a personal crisis, a problem with friends, or just an unexpected event. When we have those disruptive experiences, it is important we have a strategy to help us find a way to cope with unhealthy or unhelpful emotions and behaviors erupting from the experience.
When a student has a difficult day emotionally, it is possible to help them cope. Underlying the emotional difficulty is often some kind of fear or insecurity dominating their life and causing dysregulation in their brain.
What happens during brain dysregulation?
Neuroscientific research tell us dysregulated individuals have a difficult time with cognition or their ability to reason well. Obviously, this kind of brain response inhibits the ability to pay attention in class and learn whatever is expected of them.
Traditionally, we have attempted to force learning regardless of the regulation status of their brain. However, these “forced-learning” attempts to command some sense of conformity to the classroom expectations typically are unsuccessful.
In our schools at Lakeside, we have a regulation protocol that allows students to take a break to regulate.
Utilizing the presupposition from Dr. Bruce Perry that the way to approach a dysregulated student is to help them regulate. Regulation is usually accomplished through somatosensory interventions…which will enhance their ability to relate…which will then enhance their reasoning capacity.
In other words, regulated students have an easier time learning than students who are dysregulated.
Our teachers have the option of allowing the student to move to a “regulation area” that is behind a partition; so, only the teacher can see the student.
In that area are items like a pulse oximeter they can use to take their pulse. When they know their pulse, they can work to lower it if it is too high or work to raise it if it is too low (which is evidence of a dissociative response to stress).
In this area also are items designed to help students regulate: fidgets, sensory items, a weighted blanket, a body movement device or rocking chair, or even a dog to pet.
What is amazing about this is most students can find ways to self-regulate. They are usually out of class only for a few moments. On occasion, some students go the regulation area on their own, when they feel an emotional response coming from some kind of trigger or cue that leaves them primarily functioning in the lower part of their brain.
Some believe that this type of movement may be extremely disruptive in a classroom.
However, quite truthfully, students who take the time to regulate before or during class are more apt to be calm, learn, and positively participate in educational activities. They also can have a great sense of achievement when they are able to overcome their own emotional responses with an effective strategy for regulation.
This approach also is helpful to younger children in early childhood centers, but the interventions need to be a bit more basic and guided by the teacher. Often, these spaces are called “safe places.” Younger students can go and find something that helps them regain a sense of calm by using sensory interventions.
Maybe we adults also can find those safe places in the stresses of our day.
I think being intentional about regulation can help us all.
Teachers really ought to consider a regulation space in their classroom where they would place items students can use to help them discover their own capacity to calm themselves and learn more effectively.
This kind of strategy is so helpful to students. It turns a student’s possible negative situation to a place of internal calm, which promotes a more healthy response to life’s “bad days.”
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO