Q: I can’t even get my son up in the morning!! How can I possibly work on self-regulation?

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A: Hmm, let’s think about why he might not want to get up in the morning.
Doesn’t he like going to his preschool. No, he loves it.

Does he prefer if you to dress him? No, he can dress himself and he’s quite proud of his ability to do it.

Okay, let’s back up then. Is he just tired? What time does he go to bed – 8 o’clock for a preschooler is pretty good. He has to get up at 7 am so he’d get 11 hours of sleep – that’s pretty good. Oh, so he reads in bed and doesn’t get to sleep until about 11?? He’s definitely not getting enough sleep. No wonder he’s tired in the morning and unwilling to get up and dress himself.

So the issue may be that he isn’t getting enough sleep. 

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

How can we help him wind down at bedtime and get to sleep earlier? Routine and rhythm make a difference. Start at the same time every night. Allow 10 to 20 minutes before he has to get into bed. The sequence of events could be: wash face, brush teeth, put on pajamas, line up favorite bed toys so they can get some sleep too, get a favorite bedtime book, read the book for 10 minutes, say “goodnight” to the toys and tuck them in, lie down and close my eyes.   

That’s all good but how do you help him shut down his brain and body? How about using the Stop, Think and Breathe Kids – an app I reviewed and recommended in last month’s spark* News.

How did it go? His mom said that he dropped off quickly into a deep sleep. It looks like he’s been having problems self-regulating at bedtime in order to shut his brain and body down. 

The world is going to be a easier place for him now. Always keep in mind my acronym: children must be Calm, Alert, and Nourished. This little fellow need help with the Calming part.   


How much is too much?

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In the very first spark* News (December 2017) I mentioned I was criticized for having a child doing handsprings on the cover of spark* and spark*EL. The criticism came from a parent of two children (now young adults) with autism. She said she didn’t want her children doing handsprings. I, in my sometimes less-than-tactful manner, said that I want kids on the spectrum to have times when they can let loose. I want them to know there are times when they can feel the joy of standing on their heads, kicking up their feet, yelling at the top of their lungs, flicking pieces of string, flapping their hands and fingers. Those are exciting and really enjoyable. Why would we want to squelch them?? Talk about joyless childhoods! 

Self-regulation is a limited thing. Your ‘self-regulation’ battery can keep going and but it will run out. Children just learning to self-regulate will find it even more draining. After working on self-regulation, children will mentally and physically tired. Their ability to self-regulate will drop off. They’ll develop the ‘grouchies’ and become more distractible. Researchers find this in everyone, not just children with autism.

So what can you do?

First of all, make sure the child C.A.N. self-regulate. We’ve talked in previous editions of spark* News about making sure children are Calm (the “C” in C.A.N.), Alert (the “A” in C.A.N) and nourished. Do a few moments of Turtle Breathing before you start. Make sure you’re asking children to practice self-regulation only when they’re well-rested and feeling okay. If they didn’t sleep well the night before or aren’t feeling well, you should either forget practicing self-regulation or do an activity that was successful before. Children’s brains and bodies need well-balanced diets to function (check the June 2018 spark* News for more information). So … this means you need to check if children C.A.N. self-regulate before starting. Teach children to check for themselves – “Am I calm? Is my brain alert and ready to work? Did I eat some good food?” Make a checklist for the children, like the one below, so they can check for themselves.

Second, use activities that include their areas of high interest. That can be computers, flags, clocks, maps, Thomas the Tank Engine … you name it. It’ll make practice more fun and enjoyable and they won’t fatigue as quickly. 

Third, don’t practice too long. I recommend working on new things for no more than two minutes for every year of the child’s age. That means, a two year old should practice no more than four minutes. And an eight year old should practice for no more than 16 minutes. You want to stop when children are still keen to do more. You can practice for longer periods once the children become stronger self-regulators. That is, their ‘self-regulation batteries’ expand their power limits.

Fourth, give every child times and places when they don’t have to self-regulate. They need to just be themselves and let loose. Select places where children can be un-regulated – the backyard/garden, the playground, bedroom, whatever works. Also, choose times when it’s okay. Post the rules so children know when they can release the brakes and do handsprings if they want.