Dr. Delahooke begins the chapter by illustrating an experience she had in observing a child whose IEP instructions were making his behaviors worse as the staff followed them. She has a word of caution for those responsible for creating IEP goals. Before you try to make the undesired behavior stop, determine if the behavior is an attempt to seek relational help. Ignoring behavior is not beneficial to building relational safety needed to develop regulation skills.
In order to achieve this, you need to:
- Create a sense of safety and connection in relationships with the child.
- Learn what causes or triggers the undesired behavior.
- Try to limit triggers and help the child with ways to handle their upset.
Looking at neuroceptive states, relational safety is critical to developing self-regulation. Social engagement occurs as children feel safe with adults because flight and fright responses are shut down.
On the blue pathway, people are perceiving the highest level of threat. Here, mentally and physically, a person is shutting down and preparing to die.
On the red pathway, one is seeking to feel better and taking action to eliminate the threat.
The child’s view of safety and threat are what are important here, not the adult’s perceptions. We need to refrain from judging the child’s perception.
Teachers or an aide can help a child as a co-regulator. Unfortunately, this idea is not utilized in our classrooms. Instead, we continue to use the same outdated strategies that are not backed by neuroscience. (We ignore, separate, and punish behavior.)
There are two types of stress. One is considered good because it creates a scaffolded experience that we are able to manage and learn from. The other is bad because it overloads us and puts our resilience in jeopardy. We need to pay attention to a child’s stress level, help them manage it in a way that will help them grow. Manageable stress has a zone of proximal development, we need to tailor a child’s experiences to this ZPD for optimum benefit.
The school system continues to focus only on compliance, teaching, and elimination of undesired behavior. We ignore the child’s sense of safety.
Just as it is important to check in with the child and his/her emotional state, we also have to be aware of our own feelings. Children are aware of our feelings despite the brave faces we wear. We need to address our own upset before we can help others. If we find ourselves on the blue or red pathways, we need to regulate our selves back to the green pathway. Triggers may cause us to say or do things that are regrettable.
If we practice mindfulness, which is being in the moment without judgement, we can help students do the same. We are not able to teach a child a skill that we do not possess. If we can’t be calm, we can’t teach our students how to do this.
Breathing is the most obtainable tool for calm at our disposal. We should practice breathing exercises daily.
There are several checklists for an adult to check in with themselves to determine whether they are mentally and emotionally prepared to work with students. How the adult feeling is as important as the words they speak. Children can sense our moods and are confused by behavior that conflicts with those emotions.