The York University Magazine

YorkU Fall 2014

The alumni magazine of York University

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24 YorkU Fall 2014 Shanker notes that studies carried out at MEHRI have revealed important differences between self-regulation and self- control. "Self-regulation does not involve making an effort to inhibit impulses," he says, "but, rather, it is about being able to deal effectively and efficiently with stressors and then recover – for example noise, light, movement or frightening experiences during infancy." Shanker and Greenspan found that the key to self-regulation was not to try to strengthen willpower, but to identify and reduce the stressors affecting their nervous system. The more a child is in a depleted energy state due to distractions, the harder it is to control impulses. "Two children might have to expend very different amounts of energy, at different points in the arousal continuum, in order to engage in the same activity," says Shanker. "The problem is not that some children have less of a natural self-control reserve, but that some have to work much harder than others to perform the same tasks. It's this expenditure that so seriously depletes their capacity to cope with certain learning situations and meet subsequent challenges." Shanker likens learning the skills of self-regulation to that of driving a car in traffic. Driving requires constant changes depending on traffic conditions. When first learning to drive, it takes practice to learn how to accelerate, brake and change gears smoothly. It is the same for children learning to regulate behaviour for the best learning outcomes so they can maintain an even pace. "Some children push too hard [behaviourally]," says Shanker. "Others are jumping between gears, while some are slow to accelerate. What it comes down to is children need to master the ability to find the optimum speed or level of speed or arousal. The ability to regulate the level of arousal underlies all levels of self-regulation." He says the solution is not to deny the problems children in our society have, or embrace draconian measures that are even more dysregulating for them, but to understand the nature and sources of these stressors and then implement strategies that will help them to understand and cope with the stressors in their lives. "We created the Canadian Self-Regulation Initiative (CSRI) to put these ideas into practice," says Shanker. "That is, the vast body of scientific knowledge that we now possess in regards to the various aspects of self-regulation, and effective techniques for enhancing a child's ability to self-regulate. The good news is CSRI is now active in many parts of the country." For Shanker, helping children now will pay off for everyone later. "I really believe, as Rev. Patrick O'Neill said in 1991, that the creation and preservation of a just society hinges on the well-being of its children. And the greater the opportunity given to all of the children in a society to develop their full potential – physical, intellectual, social and emotional – the better for us all." Y In Stuart Shanker's new book, Calm, Alert, Learning: Classroom Strategies for Self-Regulation (Pearson Education Canada, 2012), he outlines the ways parents and educators can create envi- ronments where children become self-aware and discover how they can achieve a state of calm, alert focus. Successful strategies have nothing to do with imposing external control to prevent bad behaviour. External punitive approaches often create nega- tive emotions like fear, anger, frustration and shame, which consume energy and ultimately impair concentration and attention. Conversely, Shanker says neurobiological research shows that when motivation is internally generated, the brain produces neurochemicals that actually provide fuel for the brain and give it energy. Sanker says educators have an important role to play in helping children develop this crucial ability to self-regulate. His latest book leads the reader through an exploration of the five major domains of self-regulation: 1. The biological domain: how you respond to stimuli at a biological level. 2. The emotional domain: how you deal with strong feelings. 3. The cognitive domain: how you process, store and retrieve information. 4. The social domain: how you under- stand and respond to social cues. 5. The prosocial domain: how you demonstrate positive social skills like empathy. Shanker explores, in detail, what the domains are, how they work and how they can be developed in the classroom. Why Self-Regulating Kids do Better in School

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