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The Development of Self-Regulation Stuart G. Shanker Distinguished Research Professor Director, Milton & Ethel Harris Research Initiative Coquitlam Summer.

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Presentation on theme: "The Development of Self-Regulation Stuart G. Shanker Distinguished Research Professor Director, Milton & Ethel Harris Research Initiative Coquitlam Summer."— Presentation transcript:

1 The Development of Self-Regulation Stuart G. Shanker Distinguished Research Professor Director, Milton & Ethel Harris Research Initiative Coquitlam Summer Institute, July 5, 2010

2 2 Changing School Trajectories There is considerable research showing how difficult it is to change a childs trajectory from the moment that they enter kindergarten or grade 1 On the basis of we can predict educational attainment and occupational status Why is it so difficult to change trajectories?

3 3 Jensen The standard explanation, made famous by Arthur Jensen, is that IQ determines educational potential Fluid IQ (e.g., processing speed) is determined by our genes and limits educational potential in the same way that hp limits how fast a car can drive Intensive preschool programs cant increase a childs potential; they just squeeze out the last few drops of that potential

4 Problems with the IQ Argument We have seen successful interventions at the level of the child (Stacey, 2004), the school (Meier, 1995), the community (Tough, 2009), and a nation (Carnoy, 2007) Methodological/ conceptual flaws in twin IQ studies Jensen saw IQ as the determining cause of scholastic achievement; these are very different phenomena 4

5 5 The Need for a Developmental Explanation To move beyond IQ, we need a developmental explanation for why it so difficult to change childrens educational trajectories Need to understand whether successes amount to more than maximizing genetic potential Until we can explain what it is that we are doing wrong, and what it is that we are doing right, biological determinism will lurk in the background as the default hypothesis

6 6 From Neurons to Neighbourhoods In 2000, Shonkoff & Phillips set off a seismic shift in how developmental scientists, and especially neuroscientists, look at the reasons why it is so difficult to change a childs learning trajectory from kindergarten or grade 1 The shift they instituted was from looking at IQ to seeing self-regulation as the key to a childs scholastic achievement

7 Auto-immune disorders Psycho- pathologies Development Disorders Coronary Heart Disease Obesity Externalizing problems Internalizing problems Self- regulation

8 8 Five Levels of Self-Regulation 1.Biology (Temperament) 2.Emotion-regulation 3.Cognitive: Executive Functions –Sustained attention –Attention switching –Inhibit impulses –Deal with frustration, delay, distractions 4.Social : Co-regulation 5.Self-reflectiveness

9 9 The Teacher-Child Relationship Poor self-regulation not only impedes a childs ability to attend to her lessons but may also undermine the teacher-student relationship Not surprisingly, teachers respond much more positively to children who are able to stay calmly focused while those who have more difficulty in this regard receive less attention or are treated less sympathetically

10 10 Self-regulation and Educational Trajectories The obduracy of trajectories may be largely due to poor self-regulation A recent study has shown that children from lower SES have poorer development of the systems in the PFC that support self-regulation So this suggests a deeper reason why we havent been able to close the achievement gap, and even, that it has relatively little to do with IQ

11 11 A New Vision of a Childs Educational Potential The ability to learn is in large part determined by: –childs ability to attend to a lesson –process auditory or visual information –recognize visual, auditory or social patterns –respond to challenges with curiosity and interest –grasp the norms of classroom behavior If a child enters school without mastering these core capacities this will significantly impair his ability to rise to the challenges he will be exposed to in school

12 12 Secondary Altriciality Early plasticity enables the childs brain to be highly attuned to the environment in which she is born Synaptic growth in the first 2 years is massive There is huge over-production of synapses that, at 8 months, will start to be pruned back Synaptic pruning is regulated by babys emotional interactions with her caregivers

13 13 Neal Halfon Sound Vision Smell Touch Proprioception Taste

14 14 The Role of the Primary Caregiver in Early Brain Growth The primary caregiver serves as an external brain, up-regulating and down-regulating the baby Dyadic experiences are vital for: –Sensory integration –Sensory/motor coordination –Emotion-regulation –Effortful control –Sustained attention

15 15 The Brain-to-Brain Interactive System Nature provided us with an exquisitely sensitive interactive system, in which specific types of experiences result in the delivery of specific types of stimuli to systems that come online hierarchically There are three key stages in this process: –Proximal –Distal –Verbal In each of these stages, early brain development is fundamentally dyadic

16 Stages of Arousal Inhibition 1. Asleep 2. Drowsy 3. Hypoalert 4. Calmly focused and Alert 5. Hyperalert 6. Flooded Activation 16

17 17 Individual Differences The baby has to find interacting with her caregiver pleasurable; for that to happen the caregiver has to understand and respond to her unique physiology An over-reactive baby who is highly sensitive to various types of stimuli needs to be enticed by more soothing touch and sounds An under-reactive baby is enticed using more energy and bigger gestures or vocalizations

18 18 A Babys Starting-Point Newborn starts life with basic capacities: hears fairly well, sees somewhat indistinctly, can move in response to stimuli but cant control her movements By 2 or 3 months she can respond to parents by looking up, or to the right and left How does the baby reach this point of integrating the information coming in from her different senses and responding in a purposeful manner?

19 19 Comforting a Newborn This process begins at the moment of birth The descent down the birth canal and into the world is one fraught with physical and sensory assault As she cradles her newborn in her arms, the caregiver is instinctively using her body warmth and the beatings of her heart to bring comfort to her child every infant is different in the kinds of sensations or movements that she finds comforting

20 20 Learning about a Babys Reaction to Touch Caregiver begins exploring every part of her babys body, promoting babys physical growth and providing mother with subliminal information about babys response to touch Through trial and error, repeated over and over, the caregiver discovers what kind of touches, or which position or motion, enhance her babys ability to focus calmly, and which seem to distress her baby

21 21 Helping the Baby Respond Positively To Touch If babys body stiffens when she hears motherese, caregiver might lower her pitch and slow down the rhythm, searching for a calming effect With a baby who is under-reactive to sound, she might do opposite to get her babys attention By gradually modulating her vocalizations the caregiver can maintain her babys interest and help him to cope with sounds that initially overloaded him, or attend to sounds that he seemed at first not to notice

22 22 Hearing Caregivers can only learn how their baby reacts to sounds in their endless interactions Caregiver needs to experiment with different cadences, pitches, tempo, etc., in order to ascertain which vocal patterns sustain her babys interest and which elicit no response, or even, are aversive

23 23 Developing the Visual System The same subtly nuanced interactive process is key in the development of the babys visual system caregiver learns if baby is drawn to or overwhelmed by animated facial expressions, or if he is energized or drained by bright lighting By modulating the childs visual experiences she learns how to maintain the childs interest and slowly enhance his capacity to process visual stimuli

24 The Learning Tree Far too often, our interventions with children in school are targeted at higher-level skills – the branches of the tree – rather than the roots The most effective interventions, especially with children in primary school, but really at all levels, target the roots of the childs difficulties 24

25 The Root System: Self-Regulation Fundamentally important is how the child orients to and processes auditory, visual, tactile, gustatory and olfactory information, and how she modulates her sensory responses – her overall reactivity or excitability, responsivity, and arousability to these various kinds of sensory stimuli 25

26 Childs Response to Stress Another critical biological factor is the childs soothability: how easily or intensely she becomes fearful, anxious, angry, excited how she responds to new situations (e.g., approach versus withdrawal, adaptability) whether she actively seeks out new stimulation distractibility and attention-span persistence 26

27 Motor Planning Of utmost importance for the development of self- regulation is the childs motor planning and sequencing abilities and the childs sense of her body in space Many self-regulatory problems – chronically hypo- or hyper-reactive – can be traced back to early deficits in motor control and sensory-motor integration 27

28 The Tree Trunk The better the child can stay calmly focused and alert, the better her development of : Effortful Control Emotion-Regulation Executive Functioning Pattern Recognition Symbolic and Language skills Logical and Reflective thinking Empathy and Theory of Mind 28

29 Working on the Trunk Children having trouble staying calmly focused and alert typically have a problem in one of these domains The childs ability to self-regulate in all these domains grows throughout schooling For that to happen, the child must continue to undergo experiences designed to nurture her ability to self-regulate in all these domains 29

30 The Overarching Importance of Emotional Development The neural systems involved in emotion-regulation grow throughout the school years, as will the emotional challenges that child has to deal with Her learning experiences must be such that they are not only directed at the material covered in the curriculum but also geared towards creating a trunk that will be strong enough to withstand the emotional buffeting that the child will be exposed to as an adolescent and young adult This critical aspect of self-regulation must not be neglected 30

31 The Boughs and Branches The boughs of the tree relate to the childs mastery of the basic skills of reading, oral and written expression, math and science skills, music and art, and no less vital, health and hygiene Growing out of the boughs are the branches that represent the different domains of learning spelled out in detail in the curriculum, subject by subject As the child rises through the grades, the branches become increasingly intricate and articulated 31

32 Using the Model Typically, a teacher will look at: how well the child functions emotionally, socially, and intellectually how well she can focus and attend interact emotionally with those around her do simple sequencing and problem-solving Her creativity whether she can answer why questions logically 32

33 Look at the root system For example, the 10 year-old who is delayed in reading may have difficulties with sequencing and comprehending subtleties of sounds and words, making it hard for her to connect the sounds to the visual image when she is reading This makes her a slow, halting reader, in order to slow down the information inflow Her anxiety trying to read exacerbates the problem 33

34 Building a Strong Foundation If we just work on the branches alone, then were trying to build a house without a strong foundation If we can strengthen the roots and the trunk we then really build foundations for strong branches 34

35 35 How Many Children Are we Talking About? This argument doesnt just apply to the child with ASD, ADHD, or CD What about the child who is withdrawn and retreats into a fantasy world? Or who is frightened by new ideas? Or who refuses to mix with other children? Or who is easily frustrated and inconsolable if he makes a mistake? Or who gets lost in math problems, or cant string together more than one or two ideas? Or who doesnt appear to have any interests at all or isnt curious about anything?

36 36 The Real Source of Bell Curve Distributions The picture I am trying to paint here is that of a typical classroom It is a picture that every primary teacher will immediately resonate with, which brings home the reality of the enormous task we have asked our primary school teachers to perform Each of the traits described here, and many more, are a downstream consequence of much more basic processes

37 37 A Holistic Approach to Strong S-R SR develops throughout childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood as challenges to which child is exposed increase Programs with greatest long-term physical and psychological benefit are those that promote SR The more developed the childs SR, the more receptive and able they are to adopting healthy behaviors

38 38 Back to Basics Were just starting to understand what enhances and what constricts development of SR The most important early experiences are the childs interactions with her caregivers The most effective activities for children growing up are the simplest: e.g., sports, nature, arts, social interest groups

39 39 Living in Challenging Times See evidence of the possible negative effects of excessive tv and video games on development of SR These activities also inhibit family and peer interactions Growing number of families with both parents working, single parent-families with working parent

40 40 The Ongoing Development of Self-Regulation S-R continues to grow throughout the lifespan, as we adapt to new challenges Parents and teachers need to continue to develop SR to deal with the added stresses of parenting and teaching Just as with the interactions that promote SR in children, the most successful parenting and teaching programs and are those that value the individuals involved

41 41 Reading Diamond, A et. al (2008) Preschool program improves cognitive control Science November 30th Fogel, A, King, B & Shanker, S (2007) Human Development in the 21 st Century (Cambridge UP) Greenspan, S & N Greenspan (2010) The Learning Tree (Perseus) Greenspan, S & Shanker, S (2004) The First Idea (Perseus) McCain, M, JF Mustard & SG Shanker (2007) Early Years Study II: Putting Science into Action. Shanker, S (2010) Self-Regulation: Calm, Alert and Learning, Education Canada, 50:3 Shanker, S (2010) Enhancing the potential in children. H. Denise (ed), Early Child Development and Policy

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