By Paula Jurczak
I have the absolute pleasure of working online with a group of educational professionals and parents from an Eastern European city that is recovering from a post war conflict. When I began with this group, they used words like opoziciona (oppositional), kontroling (controlling) when talking about their students. Words like this come from a place of self-control, believing that the student is misbehaving and choosing to act in this way. Self-Reg encourages us to think about stress, how energy is expended and recovered and look beyond surface behaviors. To be curious and from a place of compassion ask ‘Why is this child acting in this way?’ and ‘Why now?’
I wondered about the stressors this group experienced in the different domains such as how high levels of stress was keeping their limbic systems constantly ‘on guard’, lack of resources, worry about having enough money to pay for basic necessities (food, shelter, clothing), personal safety and trauma unconsciously absorbed through the generations.
The group was polite but wary and years later would share with me what they were thinking in that moment “another person that doesn’t know us and is going to tell us what to do”. While part of me wanted to dive right in and share information about the 5 Domains, 5 Steps, and Triune Brain (see glossary on TMC website) I knew this top down information overload would not work.
Instead I paused and thought about the fundamental building blocks of Self-Reg -Relationships, Safety and Co-Regulation and began there. It can be challenging using affect, tone of voice, facial expressions and gestures to lend calm via a screen but it can be done. Emotional attunement and a human to human connection transcends barriers. Stories are powerful and by sharing my own self-reg experiences, what worked well and the humble learning from when things did not go so well created safety for the group to share too! A relationship based on mutual learning and sharing quieted the groups’ limbic guard dog’. Honoring the knowledge and experience of each person allows self-reg practices to be tailored to meet the needs of each individual, family, community and culture.
Together we created a very special place online and talked about wishes for students, parents and their community and I weaved in bits of self-reg understanding and pieces from my varied training and experience that I thought would be helpful. When they described children that were upset and not following instructions this was a natural opportunity to share about the brain. That when the limbic system (feeling part of the brain) is heightened the prefrontal cortex (thinking brain) is dampened down. When this happens information or learned strategies can’t be readily accessed. Though safety and soothing, stressors are reduced, the child calms down and their ‘thinking brain’ comes back online.
When working with people from other countries I keep in mind cultural differences such as words that don’t have a direct translation i.e. dysregulation. But I always look for the things that unite us. Affect needs no words and small things can create bridges between people. Nursery rhymes are great ways to connect -I can now sing Itsy Bitsy Spider en Espanol, en Francais, and Little Kitty in Indonesian (smile).
Self-Reg gives us a universal language and understanding and makes these ongoing cultural conversations possible.
BSW, MA, RCC, RSW
Dean of eLearning
Child and Family Therapist
DIR Clinician / Expert Trainer