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Up Regulating and Down Regulating - An Epiphany

By Therese MacDonald

When I first learned about up regulating and down regulating, I misunderstood what was meant by the term. I thought it meant that if a child looked drowsy or hypo-aroused, I needed to help them become more aroused. I thought it entailed doing something like this with them.

But in relistening to the Self-Reg Video Glossary definition of up regulating and down regulating, this comment by Dr. Shanker leapt out at me: up-regulation means that we are trying to restore that homeostatic balance so that the child has enough energy reserves to tackle the next challenge.

Up regulating and down regulating are not about moving a child around the arousal continuum, either up or down. It is about paying attention to the signs that a child’s homeostatic balance is “off” and considering what can be done to support them to restore energy that has been depleted. In this video, you will see a child who is hyper-aroused, and actually knows what she needs - to be down regulated.

In this video, you will see a child who is hypo-aroused, and needs support to get what he needs which also turns out to be down regulation in order to restore his balance.

As you can see, you can have two children whose behavior presents in different ways, one hyper and the other hypo aroused, and yet the solution is not based on how their behavior is presented on the continuum. The behavior is a sign of energy imbalance. It is up to the adults to help support that child to regain balance. Sometimes a hypo-aroused child may need to get up and energetically dance, if this is what helps restore that child’s energy needs. At other times, a hypo-aroused child may need to sleep. A hyper-aroused child may need to move - dance, run around - to restore energy, or they may need some quiet, down time.

The mistake I made at the beginning of the COVID pandemic was to assume that a lethargic child needed to be “up-regulated” with fast music or dancing, because I was making the wrong equation in my head - lethargic = needs more movement, when actually lethargic = needs energy brought in balance. This was equally true when I tried to have fidgety, restless children watch slow, classical pieces of music. Hyper-aroused just means energy is dysregulated, and it might need up beat, fast music on some days or slow tempos on other days. The key is to remember that “Everyone is different and everyone is changing all the time” (Shanker) and it’s about balance not about behavior!

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1 comentário

Aviva Dunsiger
Aviva Dunsiger
02 de abr. de 2022

Thanks so much for sharing this epiphany! I'm going to send the link to this post to my teaching partner. We were having a discussion about co-regulation after school today. I think that your post might give us some valuable new insights. Thanks for getting us to think some more about this!


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