What is Regulation?

What is Regulation?

polyvagal chart.jpeg

Maybe you’ve seen this image before. It’s a cool visual depicting part of polyvagal theory and what happens when we are in a stress response state, and also what it looks like when we are regulated (that’s that green area on the picture)—when we are in a space of Social Engagement.

Today I wanted to just post a quick summary specifically on the word/concept of Regulation. I hear about “regulation” a lot—from teachers, parents, and other professionals! People ask “is she regulated?” or “we need to improve regulation!” Let’s talk about what regulation looks like so we can better understand when our children are in this state.

Regulation is a processing state. When a person is in a regulated state they are Calm, Focused, and Alert! Take a minute and imagine the last time you were Calm, Focused, and Alert. We may often feel calm, but perhaps we are closer to spaced out (that’s hypo-alert) because we might be feeling chill but not alert. Being regulated means you can take in sensory information of your surroundings while staying Calm, Focused and Alert. For example, when my five-year-old is regulated she can stand in front of me and listen to me five her a list of commands. I tell her, “please go get your socks and shoes on, then meet me at the front door.” As I’m talking, her little brother races by, pushing a toy fire truck and blaring his rendition of a vocal siren. My daughter jumps, gets a bit startled and glances at him, then returns her gaze to me and says, “okay, Mommy!” and heads off to complete the tasks.

In this example (and this doesn’t mean she’e always regulated!) She was able to take in the sudden, loud sound of her brother, recover from a slightly startling experience, and stay focused on the words and meaning of the words I was using.

So how can we promote regulation, especially if our kids (and therefore us as parents) spend a lot of time outside a regulated state?

  1. Know your child’s sensory and motor profile. What engages him and helps him be calm focused and alert? Common answers are movement like rocking or bouncing, visual cues such as being able to see your face when you talk, or touch. What sends your child into that fight or flight space?

  2. Know that regulation is the first milestone for infants, and it happens within relationship! Think back to what your relationship was like with your child in infancy. What moments did you thrive, and when was regulation difficult? This can give you clues into your older child’s current needs.

  3. Consider environment. When someone (yourself included) is upset or dysregulated, ask what just happened before the meltdown? Loud, chaotic environment? Did something occur in relationship? Are they hungry? This are all things that decrease our stamina for maintaining a calm, focused an alert state. The more you watch for this, the better you’ll be at catching those moments or regulation, and increasing the time spent in that zone!

    Looking back at the image we started with, thinking about your daily life and how you and your child are moving in and out of these zones or states, and focus on those times you are both in that green zone. What’s supporting those calm, focused and alert moments together?

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