Self-regulation isn’t just an at school SEL activity. Self-regulation is important for the whole family. Because children develop the ability to self-regulate by being around self-regulating adults, it’s crucial for parents, as well as teachers and care-givers, to understand the movement-mindfulness-self-regulation-executive function connection.
At my recent workshop at the CA Head Start Parent Engagement Conference & Health Institute, it was rewarding to enable adults personally experience the process in their own bodies and truly GET the essential importance of our body-mind connection. First, participants took notice of how they felt physically and how they performed at a cognitive task. Next, they participated in four specific mindful movement exercises, in other words, simple self-care activities, which took 4-5 minutes. Then, they repeated the cognitive task and re-checked how they felt physically. Everyone reported they improved significantly at the cognitive task and felt more open and relaxed in their bodies. Their faces lit up with realization. They finally understood the actual value of movement and mindfulness in education. If these self-care and regulation activities can make them better learners, think how they can support young children!
This is not rocket science. It’s simple mind-body physiology, which has been validated by research extensively. Unfortunately, it still seems counter-intuitive to our culture to prioritize self-care and well-being over our TO DO list. We think it’s so important to accomplish, that we sacrifice the foundation upon which healthy achievement is possible – our basic well-being. Whole families and classrooms are stressed and, therefore, not as productive or harmonious or high achieving as they desire. Yet, all it takes is more movement and reflection to develop the mindfulness which enables self-regulation and executive function. Any time you choose to self-regulate, you are automatically operating from your higher order thinking brain or, executive function. To do this, you have to check in with and take care of your BODY.
Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky believes that intentional pretend play and participation in planning activities are the keys to promoting self-regulated learning in preschool and kindergarten children. His philosophy is rooted in cutting edge neuropsychological research on the development of self-regulation/executive functions in children.
Vygotsky suggests that, at home, parents should include children as they plan. This behavior models an intentional, self-regulated activity which takes forethought. Ideally, when parents are making a shopping list for the grocery store, or a calendar for appointments or soccer practice, they demonstrate how and invite their child to contribute or ask questions.
He also advocates for parents supporting make-believe play by jumping in, taking on an appropriate role, and showing children how to use an everyday household object in a pretend way or how to “act” for a pretend character. As children “act-out” the “customer”, “teacher”, “doctor”, they are developing self-regulation by choosing and controlling their behavior in these roles.
Ways to nurture self-regulation at home are:
Routines – establishing, explaining, and sticking to a schedule for bedtime, playtime, TV time, mealtime, etc. Help the child learn the routine so s/he can regulate him/herself. For example, set a timer to go off when it is 5 minutes to bed time. When the child hears the bell, s/he knows that it’s time to brush teeth.
Play – because it helps us all, children particularly, naturally self-regulate as well as bond with parents. Play also nurtures basic self-awareness and control skills, such as grounding, centering, sharing, and waiting. Play and movement in all forms also develops fitness, health, self-awareness, kinesthetic and proprioceptive awareness, the reticular activating system (for processing and filtering sensory information), attention span, focus, self-control, physical coordination (which fuels cognitive coordination), direction following, socialization, and so much more.
Pausing, reflecting, and self-caring – because this 3 – step routine, when reinforced by parents and practiced regularly, develops mindfulness and the ability to self-regulate, which is a physical skill, and so needs to be practiced just like any motor skill.
More mirroring and less managing – because when parents name what they see in a child’s behavior and emotional state and offer the child tools to support or soothe themselves appropriately, it help that child feel and manage what is going on in their bodies and learn to use tools/activities to self-care and self-regulate. This builds healthy self-esteem and confidence.
I believe the understanding of movement-mindfulness-self-regulation-executive function connection is the missing link needed to improve both family life and early childhood education for it lays the foundation for well-being, fitness, emotional health, and academic achievement.
If you would like to learn more about creating a self-regulation practice for yourself and your home or classroom, check out the Movement & Mindfulness Webinars 101 & 102. The third in the series, #103 coming soon.