Engaging Families, Schools & Communities
to Support Youth Mental Health Through Self-Regulation
Hope is good…and more powerful with knowledge.
Mike McKay/CSRI
We all have mental health
How does the science
of self-reg support
better mental health
outcomes across the
Mental Health Problem
Mental Distress
No distress, problem or disorder
From Dr. Stan Kutcher
Let’s Agree on This
Mike McKay/CSRI
Basic Concepts at the Core of Self-Regulation
• Life – from before birth until the moment of death – is a
rhythm of energy spent and energy restored
• Your “survival” brain – the ancient part of your brain’s
development – is always engaged. When it is on high
alert, your “learning” brain – the most recent
development in human evolution – cannot operate.
So…you can’t learn if you are filled with anxiety or fear. All
of your energy is being spent on survival.
Mike McKay/CSRI
Your Brain: Command Central Basics
Feeling safety or at risk
(level of stress) determines
the brain’s capacity to
function from one level to
the next
Under stress, adrenaline is released to
deal with threat:
•Raises heart rate & blood pressure
•Increases breathing rate
•Increases hyper-vigilance
•Increased sensitivity to lowfrequency sounds
Mike McKay/CSRI
Your Brain Under Stress: What Works/What Stops
On high alert, our resources prioritize to support high
energy demands of the brain and large muscle groups for
fight or flight. Survival trumps everything else and a
number of systems are slowed or shut down:
•Cellular repair
•Immune system
•Hearing of the human voice
•Prefrontal cortical functioning
Mike McKay/CSRI
The Self-Regulation Journey: New Tools in the Toolbox
“Instead of consistently feeling frustrated with this student’s behavior, I
have been able to help the student find ways that she can feel more
in control and successful, and leave for the day on a positive note. I
feel that by talking about self-regulation, teaching strategies and
providing a range of opportunities in my classroom, I am enabling my
students to take more responsibility for their own learning, and to drive
their own bus”…
Reflections from the First Wave Team
Mike McKay/CSRI
Stress-Response Systems
Three core systems for responding to stress:
Social Engagement
Mike McKay/CSRI
Teaching Styles/Parenting Styles: Curiosity Versus Blame:
A Teacher’s Voice
…”I am starting to look at the reasons behind problem behaviors, rather
than just giving consequences for students’ poor choices. It is less about
what I need them to do and more about what they need from me”…
…”I see more clearly what my students bring to the classroom with them
(both gifts and challenges) and have an understanding of how these
issues impact their learning time with me. I have also had to take a hard
look at myself and my teaching. The piles of paper , the stacks of books
here and there, the chaos is adding to the visual clutter. The
disorganization of the “stuff” is unsettling for some of my kids”…
Reflections from the First Wave Team
Mike McKay/CSRI
The Effects of Excessive Stress
Mike McKay/CSRI
Strategies to Support Children’s Return to Calm
Decrease power/authority
Give children choice
Increase activity time
Change the classroom design
Recognize “dysregulating”
Introduce classroom tools
Teach self-regulation
as needed
Mike McKay/CSRI
What Our Children Deal with Today- From Infancy
less natural food/more fast food packed with sugars/salts/fats
Disconnection from nature because of crowded urban living,
environmental pollution and “stranger danger”
Lack of sleep – time and quality
Screen time (the video screen is NOT a good teacher or child care
Exposure to violence and other anti-social behaviour
Family stressors: parents working two jobs, intergenerational
poverty, family violence, lack of community supports and
Mike McKay/CSRI
Beyond self-control…It’s not all about “willpower”
• heightened stress
means child has to work
much harder to pay
• negative effects
caused by falling further
behind, being yelled at,
having greater social
problems, etc.,
exacerbate the drain
on nervous system
•leads to a chronic state
of heightened anxiety
Reflections from the First Wave Team
Mike McKay/CSRI
Being an Emotion Detective: What Got Your Student
to “Flooded” (and What Won’t Bring Him Back)
A child’s meltdowns (mental distress or emerging mental health
problems) are often precipitated by something by something that has
frightened them, including emotional associations
They are particularly vulnerable to these reactions when they’re in a
LE/HT state
These reactions can put them instantly into LE/HT
Far from being acts of self-indulgence, a child’s meltdowns are a cry for
“Old School” approaches won’t lead to a positive re-set
Mike McKay/CSRI
Join us on this learning
journey via
• The website: www.selfregulation.ca
• An on-line book club or webinar
• A staff study/action research
• Initiating a project at your school
• Recommending articles for
colleagues via the website
“Every Child, Every Chance, Every Day”
Our Shared Commitment
Together, We Make a Difference
Embrace Curiosity. Build Community.
Mike McKay/CSRI

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