Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Self Regulation

I finally calapsed under the family pressure to get the stomach flu/bug this household has been dealing with this week.  I heard all the cool kids are doing it so I had to take a serious look at myself and decide "am I really too cool for this?" the answer was a resounding "NO!!".  As always with these things, the kids were not only in good spirits during it but were over it pretty fast, even jumping on our backs to play every time we bent over to mop of their puke. As usual, us parents didn't fare as well.  Big Daddy who has a stomach of steel, only started feeling 'normal' yesterday, after 5 days of yucky guts and about 12 hours of actual puking.  My version of it just feels like a long drawn out 'gluten' recovery.  When I get 'glutened' it is a low grade fever, headache, cramping, tired, nauseated few hours, 12 hours max.  I am now working on day 4.......I have been lucky and not actually puked but have felt so bad a few times I almost wish I would.
So because I am not eating, or cooking much right now, I thought I would tell you about a parenting talk I was lucky enough to go to recently (before barfest 2013) 
As a Parent Council Chair (I am a 'Co'-Chair) at the twins school, I was invited to see Dr. Stuart Shanker speak to teachers and parents about Self Regulation.  I went into it knowing nothing about this but was really impressed with this approach.  I wrote up a little report on the event for the council and I thought I would share it with you as well.

Dr. Shanker is a Distinguished Research Professor at York University, Past President of the Council for Early Child Development, and Canada’s leading expert on self-regulation. He is author of many books but the talk was about his book 'Calm, Alert and Learning: Classroom Strategies for Self-Regulation. Read more about him here

'Self Regulation' is how a child efficiently and effectively can deal with stress and recover

It has always been known that a child's IQ was determined by genetics and while that fact remains to be true, there has been a lot of research into childhood success regardless of IQ.  Studies have shown great success in the foretelling of a child's success in life through a simple 20 minute test.  This test, done on children as young as 5 years old, can determine the trajectory of the child's life in job, $, marriage and relationships with eerie accuracy. (more on that test and the study can be found here) but Dr. Shankar's talk was about how to change those outcomes for children that don't test 'well'

Part of the answer was found in tests like The Marshmallow Experiment (youtube video that is really funny)  What isn't shown in this video is that 70% of the kids ate the marshmallow.  Only 30% were able to wait.  This video is fairly recent but this test was first done in the 1930s with the same 30/70 results. The kids from the 1930s testing were then monitored for life and they found

The 30%ers
-All graduated high school and went on to higher education
-had almost no incidence of depression, anxiety, or obesity.
-these are the kids that tested 'well' in the 'Life Trajectory' testing

The 70%ers
-higher incidence of depression, anxiety and aggression
-higher incidence of divorce
-these are the kids that tested 'lower' in the 'Life Trajectory' testing.

So how do we change this?  Well, they think the difference for these kids is 'Self Regulation' or as in the Marshmallow Test, part of Self Regulation is self control......all of which can be taught, thus changing the life trajectory for these kids!!!

As I mentioned before, Self Regulation is the child's ability to deal with and recover from stress.  Well these same Drs are saying that our kids are in the 'most stressed out generation yet'. Apparently blood testing of the stress hormones in kids shows that our kids are 5 times more stressed out than children during the height of the Great Depression!!  That is A LOT of stress hormones.  We all know how stress makes us feel so imagine how hard it is for kids who haven't completely developed their pre-frontal brain (the part of the brain that thinks long range/consequences/logical)?

Although current tests show there is still a 30/70 split what they are finding is that the 70% kids are having much more severe reactions to this extraordinary amount of stress.  The 30% are better able to handle stress no matter the quantity.

What is stress?

Stress is anything that causes the brain to burn more glucose (it's fuel)
The body's reaction to stress is for the brain to ask for stress hormones.  When the stress hormones are dumped into the system the heart starts racing, hands and feet get cold (circulation is re-prioritized to muscles of flight), the tubes of the ears narrow making it more difficult to hear (maybe they aren't ignoring us!) and the pre-frontal brain shuts down (there goes any chance at reason)!!!

This is the Sympathetic Nervous System (the gas peddle) running at top speed.  What should happen is the Parasympathic Nervous System steps in and put on the brakes but with chronic stress the 'brakes brake' and never slow down the system causing a 'allostatic load'

4 Clinical Signs of Stress
1. Kid has a fight or flight response inappropriately (reacts when there is nothing to react to.  
2. Kid has a over reaction to a slight stressor
3. Kid can't calm down after a stress event
4. Kid's behaviour is volatile

Other signs to look for
- Child is crabby in the morning (hasn't recovered from stressful event)
- They show signs of anxiety or are aggressive
- Child has trouble paying attention, doesn't engage or doesn't listen.

What causes stress in kids or 'depletes the brain energy tank'
-The buzzing of lights/electronics (we learn how to better ignore these small environmental sounds as we get older)
- Commuting (they pick up on your stress about the commute)
- There is an increase in stress levels for kids who have both parents working or single parent homes (awful I know)
- TV (the noise, violence, over stimulation)
- Video Games (The brain creates opioids when it is rewarded (the same happy 'drug' the brain gives out when we eat certain foods or have sex) The brain will release opioids when 'rewarded' with winning a level of a video game. The body then craves more, creating a stress, creating stress hormones and there goes the cycle)
- Junk Food
- Lack of Sleep (the average kid gets 2 hrs less sleep a night than is recommended for their age group)
- Yelling
- Reward systems for behaviour (I found this one really interesting) Apparently this rarely works and causes a lot of stress for the kid....not to mention the stress it causes us parents. So much for some of those parenting books....

How to help
1. Calm them down.  Don't yell or judge their behaviour
2. Teach what calm is and feels like.  Teach what tired is and feels like
3. Teach or help them find what helps them when they are in that state.  Every kid is different. 

Once a kid is calm, this is when they learn (why schools are trying to integrate this into the program) 

Things that help decrease stress or 'feed the tank'
Reading or being read to
Sports (as long as it isn't too competitive)
Music (not listening to but making, in particular singing because of the addition of deep breathing)
Tae Kwon Do

That is just a very brief summary of what was talked about.  If you what to know more than what I embedded here, there is this website too.


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