Turning Behaviour Around

Why on some days children walk through the door at FERN and we know intuitively and instantly how our session is going to run? Part of the reason is that we have become energy readers, understanding what a “collective calm” means, understanding how others are reading us.  Sounds funny, but it’s true. True to the teachings of Drs. Shanker and Hopkins, we are continuously adjusting to the group feel, trying to balance ourselves with our students. The science of self-regulation has transformed the way we interact. Along with The Shanker Method, Dr. Bruce Perry has been tremendously influential in our practices at FERN. Here is one instance, of how these lessons transformed an interaction with a new student.

“I’M NOT WORKING TODAY. DON’T ASK ME TO DO ANYTHING!” Winter boots flung into the air, coat dropped on the floor, hat thrown at another child.  She runs to the computer, slams the keyboard and shouts  “ITS OFF!”

It was the end of a long week, we had 3 other students that afternoon. They were well supported with 1:1 teachers. I took a breath, looked up and scanned the room. All the students and staff stopped working, looked at the child and looked at me. The room came to a tense halt.

Compliance please…says the small voice in my head. But deep down I knew that I was looking for something different, something more. I stand up and walk slowly towards the small girl, who is 6 years old. She crawls under the table.

Self-Reg lens- What do I need right now? How do we manage being tired, overstimulated? How does she manage a new space?

“I’M NOT COMING OUT!” she screams.

Self-Reg lens- She is flat on her tummy, pressed into the carpet. Gazing at me from under the table. Tracking my movements. I need to slow down.

“Okay”, I say softlyI sit on the carpet. Take a few breaths, pause. Reflect by paying attention to my energy and my thoughts. Look at the other children in the room. Stillness, but not calmness.

Self-Reg lens- She is still under the table, not moving, silent. Is she calm? Minimize language. Engage with others, so we can find balance.

Slowly, I say. “Its been a long day, you guys are doing awesome at that table.” The students continue working, the staff speak quietly. This feels okay.

Self-Reg lens- How is she managing her emotions? How is she responding to my emotion? How are others feeling?

“I’m tired”, I say out loud. Quiet, no response. We can hear the other students chatting quietly. Safely interacting. “I’m going to rest here. Let me know when you want talk.”

 Self-Reg lens – How does she transition from high energy/tension to calm? Is she still pressing herself into the carpet? I’m still and feeling calm, I trust this process.

She begins to slide out on her belly, slowly towards me. “I’m thirsty- did you get new juice?” she asks. Engagement, a circle of communication has started.

Self-Reg lens-  How is she communicating? How does she manage settling in and listening? Positive feelings are surfacing.

“I’m not sure. We can go to the fridge and check it out.” She slides on her belly, towards the fridge. I say “Oh no, we have a snake with us today.” She giggles, along with the other students. We have a brief discussion at the fridge. She asks me to open her juice. She stands and takes a couple of sips. I drink some water. We continue, carefully and slowly, on to the next task in my office. She is engaging and more able to listen and focus. I am less tired and hopeful.

Self-Reg lens- Relationships matter. Calmer energy and alert.

This interaction took about 10 minutes. Is she learning about SR, absolutely. Are we learning about shifting energies in the room? Definitely. At times, it is still hard not to focus on “compliance” but honestly, these interactions are critical in learning how to self-regulate ourselves and through this modeling, our children will follow. This is how we truly and deeply turn behaviours around, with dignity and empathy.

Victoria Bevilacqua