Spotlight On...


Self-Regulation and Engine Speed

Self-Regulation and Engine Speed

Self-regulation is a foundational skill that can allow children to manage their behaviors, emotions and body movements when faced with challenging and unpredictable situations.  Children and adults are continually building upon their self-regulation strategies.  We are faced daily with new situations and experiences that challenge our cognitive, emotional and sensory systems.  Sensory systems, which include olfactory, visual, auditory, gustatory, tactile, vestibular and proprioception are foundations to our development.  (Taylor/Trott, 1991)

You may have heard your child come home talking about their “engine speeds,” running “too fast,”  “too slow,” or “just right.”  At Capitol Hill Day School, we adapt and use strategies from the Alert Program® to help children understand and recognize their own sensory systems as a tool to support self-regulation.  For example, if a student is feeling sluggish or lethargic, we may check in and find some tools to help them feel more alert by doing some jumping jacks or getting a drink of water.  Likewise, if we notice a child is needing more movement or their engine speed seems a little “too fast” for the activity, we may brainstorm together some strategies to slow down their engines, such as doing a yoga pose, moving their body by taking “animal walks,” or taking deep breaths.

The excerpt below from A Brief Overview of the Alert Program® describes how the state of a child’s alertness and regulation can impact their ability to take in new information and navigate challenging situations:

“For example, if we want to teach a child to tie shoes, the child first needs to be in an optimal state for learning. If she is hyper or wildly unfocused (in a high state of alertness) or if she is lethargic and droopy (in a low state of alertness), it will be challenging, at best, for the child to learn shoe tying skills. If the child is in an optimal state (alert, attentive, and focused), the child is much more likely to succeed and we are less likely to see behavioral outbursts while trying to encourage shoe tying.”

As educators and parents, we have the unique perspective and privilege of supporting young children as they begin to develop and support their self-regulation skills to better manage their days.

Further Resources

What’s All This Talk About Engines? - Mary Sue Williams, OTR/L and Sherry Shellenberger, OTR/L share a brief overview of the Alert Program ®

What's All This Talk About Engines?

How Can We Help Kids With Self Regulation? - Child Mind Institute

Self Regulation: Just as Important as Learning your ABC’s and 123’s

Games and Activities for Supporting Self-Regulation