Tag Archives: Self-regulation

Lessons in acceptance

I had some very clear ideas of how I was going to spend my 40th birthday. I felt that the number 40 had some weight to it, I really wanted to make something of the day. So I planned skating on sparkling ice on the lake with my husband in the early morning sunshine, drinking hot chocolate from a thermos, then cake with my co-workers in the afternoon, and dinner out with Australian Shiraz as a compulsory component. A new metropolitan-style restaurant downtown was my choice and I looked forward to a nice family meal. And work, of course, during the day, as it is my passion, so wouldn’t leave that out.

As it turned out, there were some problems executing the plan. The weather was a terrible grey with fog and rain in the morning. The ice – if any – would be wet and unsafe. Joel had been sick for days and the dinner reservation had to be cancelled. The cake at work found a happy, but decimated group of very sweet co-workers – the rest of them sick at home or away for work. Luckily, there was an urgent deadline job to do and a grant application to put in so the work bit went fine. No Shiraz on reserve at home, though.

I guess the point is that I didn’t mind. Not the least bit, in fact. I accepted the day to be as it was and not the way I had wanted it to be. Bicycling in the rain to get some dry crackers and apple juice for my sick son was maybe not what I had planned, but was perfectly content doing. A pity that he threw it all up a couple of hours later.

Acceptance is not the same as losing personal agency. In fact, it is only through agency we can gain control of our situations and act in responsible ways. A sense of personal agency is empowering, even in the most miserable situations. We don’t always have a free choice. But we can choose how to act in a given situation.

Acceptance and commitment therapy is a therapy form taking advantage of acceptance of all feelings and experiences as a basis for change. In stead of avoiding, repressing or rigidly reiterating hurtful or unwanted feelings and using them as an explanation for destructive behaviour, ACT advises Accepting your reactions and being present, Choosing a valued direction, and Taking action. It sounds pretty straightforward when you think about it.

To me this sounds much like the type of self-regulation we are trying to promote in children using the Triple P parenting program. Good parenting is all about teaching children to experience their feelings, impressions, and impulses, and yet not to be ruled by them, but be able to regulate the direction and actions they take. To wait for their turn, to continue trying to solve a maths problem even if it’s difficult, to control the impulse of hitting their mate in the face for calling them a loser at soccer.

Effective self-regulation is actually quite a big ask and there are a lot of adults out there who could do with more such skills. Sometimes, lack of self-regulation is overt, you can easily tell when someone seems out of control. However, sometimes it is subtle: have you ever had a co-worker whose problems somehow always turned out to be your problems? Well, that’s a sign of self-regulatory processes in need of a brush-up.

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The good news? We can promote self-regulation in each other. If I have a problem and someone helps me find the answer based on my own resources rather than giving it to me, I improve my problem-solving ability and self-efficacy. I learn that many of the answers I might be looking for are well within my reach and will use that experience next time I encounter a difficulty. Thus, interaction with others becomes a way of gaining insights rather than projecting fears and feelings of inadequacy on those we meet.

So I Accepted that my birthday turned out differently than I had planned, Chose to direct my bike towards downtown and Took action: a new dress on sale crowned the day’s ACT. Self-regulated and done! And Joel is all better now.

14 years of being who she is

So on this rainy-sunny September day my eldest daughter turned 14. Actually, the fact that it hails like mad outside right now suits her temper quite well. Sometimes it hails both inside and around her. It is much like I used to be, with a ball of fire lighting up in my stomach, shooting out of me, burning people and things in its way. I still throw the occasional bowl, but honestly, I check so it is a plastic one and throw it somewhere where it won’t damage anything. So there is really almost no point left in throwing things around because of all the planning and then the cleaning it takes.

But the temperamental trait, that ball of fire igniting, my reluctance for changes and new situations with lots of new people, and my need for some quiet, own time has stayed the same ever since I was an infant. I was an easy baby though, because my mother understood my needs and the current ideology of a very regular schedule for infants suited my rythmicity perfectly. Five years later, my brother had a hard time teaching my mother that not all babies are the same, but I think she got it after a while.

So when my daughter screams and shouts and gets overwhelmed when we ask more than two things of her at the same time, I have no problems understanding her. My poor husband just looks at me and says: “What wrong did I say now?!” Well, truth is, it’s not just the what; it’s the how, and the timing, and the weather, and the mood for the day that all adds up to ignite that fire or start the hail. But there are not only cons of having an excitable temperament, it also helps you take in the world through all your pores and helps you live more fully. So Fanny can create and play music and photograph beautifully or be absorbed in a book with cutting out the world completely. With experience and a respect for your own needs it is possible to make the best of any kind of temperamental trait. As a parent, your role is to try and accommodate your child’s temperamental needs and teach them how to tame some of the trickier implications of being who they are.

And you might as well start today because temperamental traits are extremely stable over time. The Australian Temperament Project (ATP) followed infants for 30 years. They found three aspects of temperament to be most important and also most stable: “sociability – the tendency of a child to be shy or outgoing in new situations and when meeting new people; reactivity – how strongly a child reacts to experiences and to frustration; and persistence – the extent to which a child can stay on task and control their attention, despite distractions and difficulties” (cited directly from the ATP website). These temperamental aspects also affect the person’s capacity to self-regulate, implying control over their feelings and behaviour, and ability for focused attention that is so important for learning.

The good news is that strong social skills, stable and warm parent and peer relationships, and good school experiences all influence how well children fare. So our job as parents is to help our daughter make the best of her reactivity – focusing on the important things and discarding irrelevant stimuli, to expose her to fun people where she can take advantage of her sociability, and encourage her persistence even on tasks that are not all that fun.

As for the fire and hail – those things will wear off some with time and the people who want to remain close to her will simply learn to duck. Until then, she has discovered that the pillows in the sofa serve her very well when she needs to let off some steam. I might actually try that next time my fire ball comes on, because we don’t have any plastic bowls here.

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