Understanding Problems
Learning Social Rules
Establishing Relationships
FAR Ideas
Using FAR at Home
Getting Started & Intro
Find the Key
Clean the Room
Activity Sheets
Library of Activity Sheets
GoFAR Forms
Do2Learn Resources

Session 1 - Understanding Problems

What is Self-Regulation?

  • Self-Regulation is the ability to control our emotions and behavior in different situations.  This allows us to get along with others and do what we need to do in life.
  • People have different levels of self-regulation.  This is one of the first “jobs” babies have when they are born.  They need to learn to control their responses so that they can interact with the world.
  • As children get older, they learn to cope with all kinds of stress and not to get over aroused. When they do it deliberately, this is called “effortful control”.
  • Many things help children learn to control arousal including their heritage (genetics), things that happen before birth (like prenatal exposures) and their environment during childhood.

Learning to Self-Regulate

  • Some children learn to self-regulate with little-to-no-help. But other children need a lot of help from parents and teachers.
  • Children who have problems with self-regulation need to be taught specific skills on how to maintain self-control and their arousal level. Do not expect them to just “pick them up”.
  • This will include letting children know when they get it right (or even partly right!).  It lets the person know that they are heading in the right direction.  When someone is just learning a skill, they need a lot of feedback to keep going in the right.

Understanding “arousal”

  • Before teaching self-regulation, it helps to understand “arousal”. 
  • When we use this term “arousal” we mean the “state” a person is in at a given moment.  Arousal levels can range from deep sleep to intense activity.   That is, if they are awake or asleep, if they are calm and attentive or excited and not paying attention.
  • To learn, a child must be in a calm or alert state.  So, when a child has trouble with arousal, the first job is to get them into a calm or alert state. It is for this reason that the first step in FAR is “focus and plan”.

Arousal Level Curve 2

How can parent/teacher help with arousal regulation?

  • The first step is to learn to identify and monitor arousal.  This will help to learn the child’s pattern of arousal problems.
  • You can use a rating scale.
  • Monitor the child for a week to identify problem situations and triggers.

Some examples

Some children have more difficulties when they are first waking up (Stage 2: drowsy state). This may mean that that first thing in the morning and just before bed are peak problem times. A child might need extra time and structure to wake up and complete their morning routines.

Some children have more difficulties in the Excited-Alert State (Stage 4). They may get stuck and cannot get back to Stage 3 (Calm alert).   In this case, when children get excited, they may have a melt down and possibly fall asleep before they can calm down again.  Children like this may have more problems with shopping trips or birthday parties.

Be aware of triggers

  • These are events or situations that make the child too aroused or excited.              
  • They occur before the child becomes upset.

Description:               Time?                    Place?                       Who?             What?          

Eating out. We were eating out and it took over 30 minutes to get our food. My child went crazy and threw a fit. I had to take him to the car and missed eating with the rest of the family.

Going to bed. After taking a bath my child runs all through the house. He gets so hyper that he does
not want to go to bed. It takes over an hour for him to fall asleep and often he ends up in tears before finally going to sleep.

Playing with a specific little boy in the neighborhood. Every time my child plays with an older neighbor child, he ends up in tears. He enjoys playing and rough housing with him but can’t handle it when the other child wants to quit.

Staying up too late. Whenever my child stays up late, the next day he typically has 2-3 meltdowns.

Learning something new. Every time I try to teach my child something new, she ends up in tears. I get so frustrated that I quit trying to teach her.

Techniques to calm or reduce arousal

There are many ways to approach helping a person calm. 

  • For young children, it can help to attach a word to the feelings they are having.  It is good to use a consistent set of words that are familiar to the family to describe the feelings.  (Happy, Sad, Mad). Then encourage them to use the words rather than acting out.
  • If they do not understand what they are feeling, you can describe their facial expressions and behaviors and ask what they are feeling. This helps them to become aware of what is happening.  Sometimes you will need to say, when I look like this (frown), I am MAD.  What do you feel like when you make that face?
Use a gage (pictured) to rate their arousal.  This helps the child identify what state they are in if they are not aware of their own feelings as yet.