Applying The Total Load Principle for Increasing Children’s Self-Regulation

Understanding and applying the Total Load Principle helps to shore up our methods of better relating to and raising our children through our perception, approach, and management of them. Here is a definition for the term total load from a medical dictionary as it relates to health which parallels the holistic health needs that inform a child’s self-regulation abilities:

total load: n, the sum of factors that influence an individual’s life and health, including food, chemicals, microbes, psychological factors, and other elements. Any one of these factors would not normally cause illness, but the cumulative effect of these agents may overload the functioning in an individual. – From Mosby’s Dictionary of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. (c) 2005, by Wayne Jonas, M.D., Department of Family Medicine, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, MD, U.S.A.

There are many factors that need to be considered for a child to be fully self-regulated. It’s helpful when we look through several lenses to discern what might be going on for a child when he’s exhibiting “challenging” behaviors. In my practice over time I’ve come to observe nine lenses which I use to clarify where there is an imbalance to be made right for a child. I like this system because it is holistic in nature, and even though it’s a universal framework to use with all children, I can still individualize a treatment protocol for each individual child.

(Please note: To the above definition I would suggest that any one factor may or may not normally or immediately cause imbalance leading to behavioral challenges for a child and agree with the main principle that cumulative effects may overload the functioning, read: capacity to maintain behavioral control/homeostasis.)

These nine lenses are also nine domains of health and well-being. They are: Attachment/Relationships; Creative Self-Expression; Cognition/Intellectual Stimulation; Nutrition; Nature; Environment; Sensory; Biological/Physical Expression; and Spirituality/Consciousness.

Personally, I think of spirituality as personal for everyone who chooses to consider it a factor in their life. I also consider spirituality something that knows no religions and all religions which unites us all in our ability to experience awareness of our connectedness to all of life. It may be said to be our level of Consciousness. I feel good about keeping it in this configuration because it speaks to holism, and to what I feel is greatly missing in our children’s lives.

There is a Venn diagram containing these lenses which I call The Wheel of Holistic Perception and you can access it here on the home page. It’s a good visual to put up in your kitchen or classroom as a reminder to see your child through these lenses of holism. (I address more about all that “fits” into each category ongoingly; some experiences and functions are obvious; others are not so obvious.) We can think about the lenses making up our Total Load Principle (and other principles) as ways to perceive a child, and the various strategies we use as the ways to approach and manage them. It’s all about “perception and approach”; everything distills down to these two actions, which comprise, in fact, a solid way to understand and compassionately manage children, as well as ourselves.

The Principle of Total Load has two components related to time. The first is that we use this Principle to observe what is going on for a child in the here and now. The second is that we use the Total Load Principle to consider what has been happening over time that affects a child’s states of imbalance that we’re now witnessing.

In thinking about this second time aspect of Total Load related to children’s imbalances, we need to consider all that might have led up to a child having a meltdown (or – insert other challenging behavior here) on a particular day. It could be x years of unwittingly overly controlling caregivers; it could be building anger and frustration at a peer; it could be the accident a parent or other loved one had that the child has been so worried about. It could be lots of things we’re not seeing. It’s up to us to be great communicators and sleuths.

The best practice is to incorporate the awareness and wisdom of another very related Principle – that of Generational Influences. Between our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ generations and our own, we’ve undergone many changes in the ways different systems operate: everything from food production and intake, to educational and child-rearing philosophies, to media and technology, to that which affects air and water quality, and many, many more such changes. It is imperative for us to remember that small changes over time add up. Good and bad, productive and non productive, healthy and toxic, healing and damaging. There are cumulative changes which create toxic outcomes, and we need to take off the blinders now about this fact. There is so much to consider and this occurs across systems such as the ones we’ve mentioned. What may not have outwardly damaged our elders has been passed on to us and to our children, affecting the health of one’s whole being – everything that makes up our mental health. We need to remember that the Principle of Total Load is related to imbalances due to often overlooked, accumulated changes which occur culturally (within our families, communities, and/or within the larger Western culture) over time.

In our quest to understand and increase a child’s capacity for self-regulation, it’s helpful to use a perceptual format which the Total Load Principle and The Wheel of Holistic Perception provide, since factors in one or more domains of health and well being could arguably account for a lack or absence of this hugely important developmental skill. The Total Load Principle suggests that we assess what may be going on for a child in each of these domains, ensuring the highest degree of our success in helping them, and of the child’s success in feeling his happiest, most fulfilled, well adjusted, and competent self.

Said another way, when a child’s domains of health and well being are sufficiently identified and addressed, he is feeling balanced within himself, and he is feeling safe. He is experiencing what he needs to in order to feel calm, to think clearly, relate well with others, and to stay focused appropriately for his developmental stage and age. When all caregivers work together to identify and serve all of these needs of the child, we strengthen the factors making up the “total load” for him, thereby strengthening his sense of self-competency and self-confidence in his world.



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