Self-regulation: From the Boardroom to the Classroom
You're at a three-hour meeting that you "need" to attend. Fifteen minutes into the meeting your mind wanders, you start thinking about all the things that need to be done, what to cook for dinner, bills that need to be paid, or how mad you got after that bad drive on the way to the meeting. Before you know it, you've missed out a chunk of what was said. Nevermind, you make a point to listen from now on.
Fifteen more minutes pass and now you start to shift in your seat because the backs of your thighs are pressing into the seat, your neck hurts from looking down. You start to tap your foot or bite the pen, or even doodle on the paper provided.
A coffee break is announced - hooray! You get something to drink - either hot or cold, and pick up some fruit as well. With munchies and hydration you're feeling more renewed and ready to listen.
There are several examples above which illustrate how people regulate their sensory systems, so that they can better focus on a task. As adults, we find appropriate or acceptable ways to wake ourselves up when we feel sluggish, or calm ourselves down if we feel worked up. These methods become automatic and most times they can be effectively done without anyone noticing.
Some children have difficulty with self-regulation. Often times they get labelled as "hyper", "lazy", or it's often said they "don't listen". In class they may be disruptive because they may rock in their seats, kick the chair in front, always need to move or get up, constantly look out the window, do not seem to hear you when called although you know their hearing is impeccable, and the list goes on.
Unfortunately for our kids, they do not know acceptable and appropriate ways to regulate. Add in a classroom full of peers, posters on the wall, the noise of the air condition unit, fan, or other children, and the interesting things to see outside the window, and you can have trouble. For these children who appear to have a hard time paying attention, it is important to observe them and see the types of behaviour they exhibit.
The movers and rockers can become classroom helpers: give them little tasks to do that allow them to have this movement regularly - pass out books, collect books, erase the board. This works well too for the children who appear to be far away in thought, as it snaps them back to reality and "wakes up" the body.
For the whole class to maintain attention, short breaks should be taken regularly. When I was in primary school we did "Hands up, down", and even now I remember that it worked very well in getting the whole class re-energized. I am not sure that this practice continues today but other methods can be utilised such as singing a short song, doing a funny dance, shaking out the arms and legs, or simply stopping to take a few deep breaths.
Water should also be readily available for our children to sip when needed. Not only does dehydration increase fatigue and inattention, but having a sip of water every now and again acts as a fantastic way to self-regulate.
Every child has the capacity to learn and there is absolutely no reason why a child labelled as hyper or lazy should be ignored or overlooked, or worse, punished. Observation and understanding are needed so that we can offer our children a better educational experience.