Self-regulation has been a topic of discussion at the forefront of education and is being attributed to a child’s overall emotional health and success. Self-Regulation is the ability to monitor and control our own behavior, emotions and thoughts, altering them in accordance with the demands of the situation. The growth of self-regulation is a cornerstone of development and plays part in a child’s ability to have positive social relationships, develop new skills, increase independence and cope with stress.
The foundation for developing self-regulation is self-awareness, the ability to recognize and connect to ones body state, thoughts and emotions.
Children take in the world around them through their senses, their 5 senses we are all familiar with (sight, sound, taste, touch, hearing) and their 3 “hidden senses”, their Vestibular and Proprioceptive systems and Interoception or IA – Interoceptive Awareness. When their sensory systems are functioning properly they are able to receive sensory input or messages from their external and internal environments, process that information and respond through appropriate motor or behavioral responses. When their sensory systems are not functioning properly, the sensory signals or messages from the external and internal environment get “mixed” up or disorganized, therefore mixing up and disorganizing the child’s behavioral and motor responses.
“Self-regulation is the ability to self-organize-to control one’s activity level and state of alertness as well as one’s emotional, mental or physical responses to sensations” (Smith and Gouze, 2004).
In this definition, we see that Self-regulation and Sensory Integration are directly correlated.
The number of children who exhibit Sensory Processing difficulties are on the rise. There are many factors we can attribute to this increase:
1) Children are not getting as much physical activity in their early developmental stages which directly impacts their developing brains
2) Children are being exposed to more technology, which can impact the sensory system
3) Children are over-scheduled and over-stressed by the world around them, stress directly impacts the brain and development.
In my years working with children with autism, ADHD, sensory processing challenges and behavior challenges, I have found one of the most effective strategies in helping them develop self-regulation is through a multi-sensory yoga and mindfulness approach.
Teaching children to be attuned to their bodies and helping them develop a greater connection to their sensory systems as well as Interoceptive Awareness (their body state and emotions) through yoga and mindfulness activities supports them in balancing out their sensory systems and learning to regulate their states of alertness, emotional and physical responses to their environment. Specific breathing strategies and poses can support children in regulating their arousal states, expressing emotions and controlling emotional responses. Specific yoga poses can provide vestibular and proprioceptive input to balance the sensory systems. Specific poses and breathing strategies support children with body awareness and increased Interocpetive Awareness. By teaching children how to be more “embodied” we help them learn to tune their own radios rather than can trying to tune them for them. This offers an experience of “empowerment” and teaches children that they can be IN CONTROL of their own behaviors and responses to stress and challenges in their lives.