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FREE Class Series b. 8/8/16: Learn The Holistic Child’s Self-Regulation Program

Hello Friends,

Like everyone, I am heartbroken about the state of the world and grieve for all the violence happening. Anyone who reads this blog knows my thoughts on the importance of healthy identity development and emotional safety as the key factors leading to the development of self-regulation – the precursor to Right Relationship with oneself, and the basis for Right Relationship with others – read: No Violence.

Because I want to help as much as I can, I am teaching The Holistic Child’s Self-Regulation Program for FREE in a six-week class beginning Monday, Aug. 8, 2016 in Philadelphia, PA. See this link for specific dates, location and time:

Learn a Self-Regulation Program to Improve Children’s Behaviors

Monday, Aug 8, 2016, 7:00 PM

Chestnut Hill branch of The Free Library of Philadelphia
8711 Germantown Ave., Chestnut Hill section of NW Phila., PA 19118 Philadelphia, PA

5 Members Attending

Got kids with challenging behavior? Come learn a holistic model for understanding and increasing children’s capacities for self-regulation. In these six classes (see schedule, below, we begin Aug. 8, 7pm) you’ll learn a 3-pronged model of the why’s and how’s for increasing children’s abilities to follow directives, manage and appropriately express …

Check out this Meetup →

Hope to see you there.




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    A Child’s Wish


    I want to live in warmth and


    without corners or sharp edges

    with the freedom of Safety

    to surrender myself

    my     Self

    to the world.


    No coldness

    or harshness

    no unseen attempts

    at connectedness to Love,

    to Life.


    I want to live in the soft, seen

    warm world.

    in the light

    of Presence and comfort

    of wantedness

    and sharing

    of understanding and compassion


    of harmonious,


    neutral enchantment.





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      How a Child’s Identity Schema is Related to Self-Regulation

      (Please Note:  This post first appeared as an article of the same name for the magazine, The Attached Family, a publication of API, Attachment Parenting International, on 9/5/13.)

      We know that when we engage children personally over time through our warm, sincere, kind and playful interest in them and their activities, we deepen our positive attachment through this attunement to and presence with them, and they are more likely to comply with our directives even if we call to them from across the room to pick up their toys. But why is this so?

      To deepen our insights into why children behave the way they do and increase our psychological literacy overall (it helps with all relationships), it’s worth looking at the underlying dynamics of attachment as they relate to the beginning stages of the most important concept a child will ever develop in her lifetime – her identity schema.

      In psychology and other fields, the term schema is used to describe a mental concept or template used to organize knowledge. Schemas are dynamic, meaning they develop actively and are self-revising. We all have unlimited schemas that we have developed over time, such as our schema for a house, for budgeting, for an ideal companion, etc.

      In this discussion, a child’s identity schema refers to her self-concept. A child’s earliest schemas are tightly-woven formative structures for her sense of self and the world at large – for her idea of who she is, how safe the world is, and how the world sees her. As I see it, this tight web of information and experiences the child begins to internalize in early life is the core origin of her identity schema.

      I am talking about a child’s first impressions about herself, about who she believes herself to be. This belief is directly related to her capacities for self-regulation as she grows up and into adulthood. For example, her ability to tolerate strong emotion, focus on and complete tasks, communicate well and engage rewardingly with others hinge on how safe and balanced she feels, which tie back to her self-concept.

      The first kind of identity schema is made up of emotional imprints, not words, since emotions are preverbal. The thinking here is that we can start to trace the beginning of a child’s identity schema at eight months in utero, when his amygdala begins sensing his mother’s hormone levels. If the mother feels safe and contented, the baby likely will, too. If his mother is in danger or under stress and her cortisol levels are high for extended periods, the baby may experience continued stress, translating to an emotional imprint of being unsafe, ergo, “I am not safe.” This is an awareness that the child won’t be able to recall consciously in later years, yet the emotions are real, and they leave impressions that affect the development of his formative sense of self.

      In the early months and years of a young child, negative experiences such as poverty, lack of physical or emotional nourishment, and other hardships may validate and reinforce his negative identity schema. This may translate to impressions such as, “People don’t care what I have to say, what I like, what I want. I can’t have what I need. What’s wrong with me? I’m not good. I’m not enough.” He may feel both emotionally unsafe and internally imbalanced.

      In contrast, when an infant’s needs are taken care of in loving, compassionate and timely ways, he begins to internalize a positive identity schema. The positive emotions he feels by way of his caregivers knowing and meeting his needs relay these truths to him: “My needs are met. I am taken care of. I am valued. The world is safe. I am lovable. I am good.” The implications for a child’s personality, expectations, happiness, social successes and more, based on this initial schema development, are staggering.

      As he begins to understand words, he also begins to internalize the second kind of identity schema – the cognitive schema for who he is. As he toddles about, the child learns more about himself through labels and the meaning that other people intentionally teach him, such as, “I am a boy. I am a brother. I am a good buttoner. I like painting.” Let’s remember that that he acquires both emotional and cognitive schemas by either assuming them or by being directly taught them. Therefore, it is our very important job to be mindful of what identity schemas we teach and children internalize.

      The choice of attitudes, words, and statements his parents, caregivers, and teachers use with him directly or indirectly affect the messages he internalizes. In a best case scenario, he feels, “I am enough. Life loves me. I am free to be who I am, as I am. I am absolutely cherished.” Once a child feels both safe and balanced, he is capable of self-regulation. And when he is feeling both safe and balanced in his body and in the world – feeling seen, understood, respected, and taken care of – he is much, much more likely to take directives from his caregivers and to decrease behavioral challenges.

      But nobody’s perfect, and we all do what we can based on the skills and awareness we have at any given time. Increasing our psychological literacy can help us make the most insightful and caring choices as we consider our children’s innermost needs and how to meet them.

      Since our goal is to raise our children to be in “right relationship” with themselves as the prerequisite to being in right relationship with others and the world, focusing on their earliest schema development, particularly their identity schema, puts them on the right track for all kinds of successes over the course of their childhood and adult life.


      To read full article with comments in The Attached Family Magazine see here.



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        From the Self-Reflection Series: Finding Ourselves On or Within The Continuum of Being

        We need more references and contexts to help our children understand who they are, why they feel and think the ways they do, why there’s no need to pidgeon-hole others who are different, and how we all fit into the grand design of life. But first, we need to remember and get back into these contexts of living ourselves.

        We need to more deeply understand, practice and teach the Continuum of Being – of being in the world and of the world in a just way.

        Traditionally, we know that the wise goal of “being in the world but not of it” means that while we live in our bodies on this planet we refrain from over-identifying with material things, often displayed outwardly by attachment to appearances, to things, to over-consumption, to the monopolization of goods and services, etc. This material identification takes us away from our real selves – our true essence, and therefore away from a broad holistic context of how we can relate to the whole of the world. The absolute magic of amending this is the parallel process of connecting more deeply to ourselves as we act on the recognized interconnectedness that life is.

        I think we can change the context of being both in the world and of it by acting on the growing remembering that everything and everyone is connected and interdependent for our survival and thriving. In other words, the less we identify with the more material, finite things of life and  instead focus on what is truly meaningful and globally sustainable, the more we can be both in the world and “of it”.

        The mistake many of us have made in perceiving ourselves as a person in the world is one of language and its meaning: If we see ourselves living on Earth, on a continuum, the word “on” may suggest even unconsciously that skipping along through life taking from Nature is the way it’s supposed to be. Yet when we perceive ourselves living within the continuum of being, it feels different, doesn’t it? It smacks of belonging and of personal responsibility.

        Of course you don’t live on a family, you live within a family to whom you have a responsibility as a member.

        We are related to Nature and responsible for Her.

        We don’t survive because of Nature, we survive because we give back to Her what she needs to sustain us.

        One of the best foundational ways we can help our children is to remember that we live within a continuum of being, and in two major contexts: the first is as individuals interacting with and responding to the local relational and environmental subsets of life that are our day-to-day experiences, and the second is as the human race perceiving, responding to, and interacting with the larger forces of Nature, making up our collective whole here, in anticipated harmony.

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          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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            The Ways We Help or Hinder a Child’s Development of Self-Regulation

            Within a period of two weeks I observed two very different styles of nurturing from two different caregivers in different schools.  Both teachers are wonderfully kind and caring, wanting only the best for their students. And, like every caregiver -like all of us- they do the best they can with the skills and awareness they have at the time. That said, the outcomes the teachers’ actions had on their tantruming students had very different results, and I wanted to write about my observations in light of seeing how different forms of the help we provide produce different outcomes…

            The tantrums of both children had different dynamics for which I recommended different strategies. The first observation looked like this:

            Miss Leslie teaches five year olds.  My client, “David” was having trouble with transitions, and had meltdowns during these times and then difficulty self-regulating. He’d get so upset he couldn’t even make decisions.

            The trouble for David and his teachers was that when it came time for nap, he screamed and screamed, refusing to sleep. His teachers had no true sense as to why this was happening. We looked more closely at the transition time before nap. There certainly was a lot going on in a short period of time. It looks like this: Recess, then hang up jackets, wash hands, set up cot for nap, set up for lunch, eat, clean up, settle into cots for nap. That’s the routine. (I don’t like that the kids don’t have time to sit upright after eating for proper digestion but that’s a different story.) Although David seemed to be calm up until it was time to set up cots, my sense was that his anxiety level was ramping up at warp speed during that period. His meltdowns seemed to occur because of the extreme over-stimulation he felt at some point in this time period. It was too much for him to do all these activities in the manner of the class schedule.

            Even though David’s teachers wanted to encourage responsibility by having the kids do as much for themselves as possible, what benefitted David and ultimately solved the problem was asking them to reduce their expectations of David and build in more supports for him during this tricky time. What Leslie ended up doing differently had a wonderful outcome: she simply made David’s cot up for him, which involved getting it from the stack of cots, setting it down in his spot and setting his sheet and pillow on it. It took less than a minute. She realized she didn’t have to view it as giving in, or as babying him. She rightly viewed it as supporting him and nurturing him in this way. She also provided more physical nurturance to David during transition periods in general by putting her hand on his shoulder, or reassuringly rubbing his arm  kindly, while being “present” with him for a few moments. Specifically, her setting up his cot helped so much that David immediately began transitioning and napping with no meltdowns.

            This simple change David’s teacher made allowed David to experience success in the transitions, to feel a sense of control within these transitions, and to therefore feel good about himself as someone who is competent. Every child senses if they are competent in something or not; Leslie’s wise support helped David experience and strengthen his “I am competent” schema, which is no small thing, especially for a preschooler developing foundational identity constructs.

            The second scenario I observed involved a teacher who was so over the moon about a three and a half year old who tantrumed in her classroom that she unwittingly “saved” him from natural outcomes. By not using appropriate strategies in a timely manner she impeded “Jake’s” abilities to experience problems and learn to solve them.

            Miss Jan is a wonderful teacher; she is extremely caring and is a loving presence in her classroom. What I respectfully showed her was how she had become enmeshed with this little boy; that is, she was actually too involved with him emotionally to see that some of her behaviors were adding to the problem of his acting out. She wanted to help him feel better, but by giving him too much of the wrong kind of attention for negative behaviors, and at the wrong times – i.e.: feeding into his tantrums – her overall goal of helping him backfired.  So in this case we agreed that she would jump in less and let the second teacher in the classroom get more involved with Jake during the times when he acted out. Both teachers would be sure to use the strategies I recommended consistently, multiple times per day, every day, to include not feeding into or “giving” too much of oneself to the point that Jake manipulated the staff. Please note: this is not to say that I recommended withholding warm feelings or that I asked Jan to be something other than the caring teacher she is. It is to say that I asked her to begin to see the situation differently, and to see these new approaches to managing Jake as an even better way to love him. I essentially asked her to reformulate her methods of caring for him, without compromising the depth of her fondness for him. For example, we agreed that Jan would continued to warmly nurture Jake with hugs but only during appropriate times, i.e.: when there was a transition in activities; during play time; in the hopefully rare occasion that he got hurt physically from say, a bump or bruise; and always to reinforce when he was displaying positive behaviors.

            These changes caused Jake to act out even more initially, and this was to be expected. Over time, both teachers kept the balance between co-teaching and intervening without feeding into negative behaviors. They and Jake’s parents used all the strategies consistently. Jake developed more “self-and-other”, and “actions-and-results” awareness, and benefitted from the appropriate, external balance he experienced from his teachers (and parents). The benefits were noted as more stable moods, less attempts to manipulate adults’ emotions, and more compliance. Eventually his tantrums began to decrease and he was not asked to leave the school.

            Both stories have happy endings. For both boys, this translated to more behavioral successes which resulted from increased feelings of control and self-competence. These feelings and experiences, in turn, inform their social-emotional trajectory and give continued confidence to new activities and ways of relating.










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              Ensure Congruence with this Coin Flip Exercise and Help Children Develop Self-Regulation

              By ensuring and honoring “Internal-External Congruence” with your child, you really help place her on a fast track to self-esteem and self-regulation.

              What I mean by this kind of congruence is when we communicate and act in ways that accurately (congruently) reflect what it is we truly feel, sense, think, and want to do. It’s interesting to consider how often we actually do this. When we make a decision, are we sure it is our decision? That we are making it for ourselves and not for another? When we answer a question about how we ar feeling, are we expressing the truth? Yes, there are times when we need to use discernment and not disclose certain things, either to keep something private or to avoid hurting someone’s feelings, etc. I’m referring to other unhealthy examples when a person’s feelings, thoughts, needs and desires are discounted, minimized, or ignored. (And as this relates to children – not when we are attempting to steer them away from bad habits or decisions.)

              Inherent in this practice of Internal-External Congruence is the degree of self-respect with which we honor ourselves, or not. Are we robotically answering with words and actions we think someone will want to hear us say and do, thereby sweeping our own wants and needs under the rug? Someone who has done this since childhood may likely not be in touch with what he is feeling at all by the tme he reaches adolescence. How happy will this child be throughout life if this continues? What quality of relationships will he have if he remains passive and inattentive to his own feelings, thoughts, needs and desires?

              Obviously this is a huge piece related to self-esteem and how we correctly foster it in raising our children. We very much want them to be skilled in asserting themselves in life, but they first have to know how it is they actually feel and what it is they actually want. We can be sure to not make those assumptions and related decisions for them (in the right contexts), and, we can help them get in touch with what’s going on inside of themselves.

              A simple coin flip exercise I’m about to share will help your older preschool or school-age child get in touch with the subtleties of her emotions, wants, and thoughts, and also get her connected to her intuition – her sense of what she knows to be true for her – or not; her sense of what is right or wrong; of whether to trust or not trust; of whether to act or not act, etc. Therefore, congruence – speaking and acting in accordance to how one really feels, thinks, and senses – is greatly related to self-regulation. A child who knows and trusts how she feels, and then acts on this inner knowing, is respecting herself. She is validating herself. This is no small thing, as it sets the stage for further self-trust and leaps in self-confidence, self-respect, and self-competence – all vital skills for self-regulation.

              When your child is unsure of how she feels about something – say, whether she should invite a classmate to her birthday party who has bullied her and some of her friends in the past but who also has shown appropriate social skills and kindness at times, pull out a coin.  Have your child “assign” to “heads” the decision to invite the classmate to the birthday party, and “assign” to “tails” the decision to not invite the classmate to this party. Have your child flip the coin and when it lands, ask her to describe how she feels about the “decision” the coin has made for her. Does she feel relieved? Glad? Sorry? Confused?

              There is no judgment in expressing the truth of what one feels and acting upon it, even if it does not seem like the “politically correct” response at the time. In these types of cases when we fear that others may view our decisions as socially awkward, rude, or unkind, there are graceful ways of handling it, and we get more comfortable doing this the more it happens – and I think it’s good when it happens.

              In our example, your child may have any type of feeling and decision and it’s your job to honor them, keeping your feelings out of it. It might be that she’ll benefit from you helping her to come up with what to say to either explain why the classmate wasn’t invited, or for how to invite them to the party.  If she happened to feel like she wants to give her classmate a chance, you might sit down and think of a “script” for her to use to talk with her classmate about the expectations she has for them at the party. An example might be, “I’d love for the whole group to get along and have fun, like the times when you’ve been kind to me and my friends. Though there have been times you haven’t been and I was really hurt. Let’s talk about how to to be sure everyone’s nice to each other and has a good time.” This added step increases self-regulation skills, too, because it maps out ideas and skills for thinking about non judgment, kindness, compassion, self-respect, putting oneself in another’s shoes, steps to building friendships, solving problems, and trying again.

              Please note, that although it may seem odd to hear someone state what seems obvious, and to suggest such simple scripts to share with children, I’m afraid it’s actually because we’ve stopped paying attention to the “obvious” that we have so many children with challenging behaviors to begin with. For anyone who’s not used to these suggestions, please read and consider this with fresh eyes. Then try it, and see what happens, and write us with your stories!

              The coin flip trick is a simple exercise which when used regularly can help your child gain insight into, and respect for her internal experiences. Your encouraging guidance for her to act on her level of “knowing” what feels right for her will greatly increase both her sense of safety with you, and her own personal empowerment. In time, she’ll internalize this process without the use of the coin, increasing her skill set for validating herself. She’ll also likely lead others to use the same process of self-validation.

              I’ve worked with all ages, including preschoolers and find the language in our example works well with 4 and 5 year olds, and can easily be adapted and simplified with 2 and a half and three year olds. It’s also helpful to use age-appropriate toys for playing out scenarios and lessons. The best are those that the children really like which might be personified, like toy cars, dolls, and puppets. The idea is to get the concepts across in language they’ll understand. I don’t think we can underestimate how much even young babies and toddlers can understand conceptually, and especially through our attunement to them. It’s a learning curve and skill set for all of us to continually develop in sensing what works for each age group we are caring for (and of course age doesn’t necessarily denote typical cognitive or social-emotional congruence). The overarching goal is to make our responses and the activity be about how the child’s emotions matter, that we honor what they are feeling and intuiting, and that they should pay attention to what their emotions and intuition tell them. We practice nonverbal honoring by holding a child, validating them by being present with them, and not ‘shushing’ them when they cry or are angry, etc.

              These steps build the way for the more developed cognitive strategies for increasing self-regulation we use as the kids grow up. As caregivers we are always paving the way nonverbally and verbally. It’s all happening all the time.

              Note: this post was edited; it was originally published as “Congruence and Self-Esteem” on Oct. 9, 2009 on my previous blog.




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