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You are not Pavlov's dog and neither do you want your kids to be!

Phil McInnes

We pay far too little attention to practising self-regulation.

Most people know the Pavlov's dog experiment. To recap, by getting his dog to associate food with the sound of a bell, Pavlov got his dog to salivate at the sound of a bell. A simple stimulus (a bell) induced a physiological response (salivation).

Viktor Frankl noted that humans are different to animals in that we have the capability to think and make a choice between any stimulus and how we respond to it. However, sadly like Pavlov's dog, we become conditioned to respond in certain ways. The difference is that we allow this to happen because we fail to practice self-regulation.

Self-regulation allows us to stop, think and question how you choose we respond to any given situation. It ultimately gives us control over our actions and allows us to change reactions that are wrong.

 How often have you regretted eating that second and third biscuit without even thinking about it? The good news is that we can practice self-control, which is an important aspect of impulse control and self-regulation.

There are some great exercises to do with kids. For example, play some music that increases in tempo. Get the kids to clap in time, increasing in tempo with the music. Get them to do this again and again, until they do it impulsively. Then, change your instruction to them. They must now do the opposite, that is, clap more and more slowly as the tempo of the music increases. You are teaching them to regulate a different response to the stimulus of music, thereby practicing self-control and impulse control. There are many other activities educators can do, for example reversing the instructions in the red traffic light/green traffic light game etc.

Athletes use this technique to re-frame the emotion of fear to one of anticipation or excitement to channel adrenaline positively. I use it when I have to speak publicly. 

Activities that enhance self-regulation capabilities are incredibly important for kids and I will leave you with an inspiring insight by Frank Outlaw:

"Watch your thoughts, they become your words.

 Watch your words, they become your actions.

Watch your actions, they become your habits,

Watch your habits, they become your character,

Watch your character, it becomes your destiny."


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