Oops! Self-regulation failure

spark* News

This topic really applies to me this month. Here I am more than half way through the month and still no newsletter. Why? I guess it was a case of failure to self-regulate.

The amount of self-regulation you have is limited. Each one of us just has so much. You try your best to self-regulate to get things done. But lots of things make you reduce the amount of self-regulation you have available. There are six main things that can shrink your supply of self-regulation:

  1. Tiredness – If you’re tired, your self-regulation is deflated a bit. You just can’t use your executive functions as effectively. You might feel, “(groan) I just can’t make myself do it right now.”
  2. Stress – If you’re feeling stressed, your supply of self-regulation is smaller. Your emotions are making it harder to regulate your body and thinking.
  3. Negative mood – if you’re feeling low, frustrated, grouchy or in some other negative mood your supply of self-regulation is reduced. You might tell yourself, “Everything else has gone wrong today, I’m not even going to try this.” The more you try to control your mood, the worse it seems to get.
  4. Temptations – if something delicious or beautiful or fun grabs your attention, self-regulation can go out the window. Let’s say, a friend calls and asks you out for lunch – that’s a lot more appealing than doing laundry or homework or cooking for yourself.
  5. Behavior of other people – can act like a temptation and draw you in, decreasing your self-regulation. If someone is going shopping or on a trip, it’s pretty easy to start thinking about doing that yourself.
  6. Overdoing one of the areas of self-regulation – if you have to control your body and behavior for long periods of time, your thinking and emotional self-regulation will drop off.

So, why was I late in getting this newsletter written and sent out? It was a combination of things. I was working on revising the spark* website. At the same time, I was working on developing online training for spark*. Those are both fun and exciting things to do … but so is the newsletter. If I’m honest, I’d have to stack it up to a combination of being tired from trying to do too much, along with negative mood (frustration – because things don’t get done fast enough). Those things just squashed my self-regulation and the newsletter suffered. My mood also suffered and the ‘crankies’ were released – ask my husband!

How does this relate to our children? I’m sure that a lot of people have seen children just lose it. They have a complete meltdown ‘all of a sudden’. They lose all or most of their self-regulation. They might act out physically – maybe throw things, hit out, bang their head. They can’t think and use their cognitive self-regulation. And emotional self-regulation went out the window a while back. These meltdowns are due to a few things. Most likely, the child is probably tired from a day at school. They’ve had to ‘overdo’ self-regulation all day – thinking hard, controlling emotions, and managing their bodies. Maybe they started the day in a negative mood. Children may be tempted by ‘goofy’ behavior in a classmate and lose self-regulation. There are so many possibilities. Add to that our children are just developing self-regulation and their executive functions are just beginning to mature.

What’s most important to remember is that self-regulation has its limits – even for adults. The size of your self-regulation gets squished by any or all of the six things listed above. In children, self-regulation is still developing and can be more easily affected by these things.

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