The “Goldilocks Zone”: Building Resilient Regulation Skills

The “Goldilocks Zone”: Building Resilient Regulation Skills
by Dr. Rick Robinson

In the third installment of our Regulation Skills blogs, we will focus on several ideas that can help students increase their stamina when it comes to regulation. In our first two blogs, we focused on approaches to group and individual regulation, discussing a number of key skill development strategies. Once students have tools in their regulation kit, it is important to help them use those tools effectively under increasingly demanding situations. One way to work on this goal is to focus on increasing stamina. That is, help students increase their skills in maintaining a state of regulation that will allow them to complete tasks requiring effort, over longer chunks of time.

Building stamina essentially involves increasing tolerance when engaged in a given activity. Let’s say we want to increase our “walking stamina.” In that event we walk long enough to get to the point where we are experiencing fatigue, but can still use proper form in walking and do not extend ourselves in a way that hurts us. We also know that without stressing our system a bit when it comes to walking, we won’t increase our stamina. The secret is identifying the “Goldilocks Zone,” not too much, not too little, but just right.

Here are a couple of key ideas for you to consider when targeting the “Goldilocks Zone” for building student stamina utilizing their regulation skills:

First, when planning an activity think about the demands placed on students regulation “resource pool.” Examples of “pool drainers” include:

• Stopping one’s self and using self-restraint: Hand raising, sharing, taking turns, waiting in line, and keeping hands to self, for example, all require a student to use self-regulation skills to manage their impulses.

• Tracking time: When students are working on a task and need to listen to and/or read instructions, develop a plan, execute a strategy and complete that task within a time-frame, they are expensing considerable energy.

• Organizing materials: As we all know (think about heading out the door in the morning to go to work), keeping track of the stuff we need to complete our tasks and take care of ourselves requires focused attention.

• Emotional self-regulation and problem solving: Productively tolerating frustration, anger, boredom, anxiety, etc., requires considerable energy to calm our bodies, engage our thinking brains and then pursue a problem solution, either on our own or with the help of others.

• Self-Motivation: When we are faced with activities we find difficult, challenging, boring or unpleasant, we have to recruit extra neuronal energy to intentionally direct our attention and guide our behavior.

Second, when scheduling activities make a “best guess” regarding how long students can remain productively engaged. Consider student behaviors suggesting that dysregulation is beginning: small increases in fidgety behaviors, noise making, chatting, out of seat seeking materials, etc., are just a few examples. Make sure that a regulation break is scheduled such that these behaviors do not cross the “acting-out threshold,” where significant corrections or disciplinary actions on your part would need to be considered. In addition, by attuning to indicators of dyregulation, you can institute a non-scheduled regulation break. In either case, providing a regulation break before the acting-out threshhold is reached replenishes the students’ resource pool and allows us to gradually stretch out the time between structured regulation breaks.

Finally, be mindful that regulatory strengths and weaknesses are very dependent on student’s physiological and emotional states. As a result, you should be ready to make adjustments in your plan to help students build regulation stamina. For example, we may not be able to continue “stretching” our students, before and after breaks, when there are mid-week holidays (Halloween), there is a threat of inclement weather (snow days), or other such events.

Try finding the “Goldilocks Zone” with your students, and let us know how it goes!

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