Throughout this journey into play over the last five years, one question comes up often, it has been one I have struggled to answer and actually have felt ill equipped to answer. The question is around those children that just cause absolute chaos in a play based class, that break things, fight, basically run riot. Those children who are oppositional and rebuff our attempts at forming strong relationships, basically seem to undermine everything we do. What do we do about these children?
I have not felt able to answer this question, because I am incredibly lucky to work in a school where children usually come in with the ability to auto-regulate or to regulate with support from an a trusted person (co-regulate.) Don't get me wrong, we still have children who come in with obvious issues with regulation, due to early trauma or otherwise, but we don't usually have groups of them, we have one or two who we can work effectively with and help to self-manage.
After reading this book
I now feel a little more able to answer this question. But please know I am no expert.
Firstly however let me say this. For children who come in with strong attachments and for want of a better word 'normal' abilities to regulate, a play-based environment based on self-direction is the absolute best. Children starting from this foundation learn so much within this environment and absolutely blossom emotionally and socially. They cope beautifully in this environment because this is how they are programmed to learn. They don't need us to direct them or manage them.
Children with early trauma are still built to learn this way, however they are as yet unable to thrive in this environment without a few modifications (which we can make very simply, without going back to our old methods of control.)
Before I go any further:
This short article is helpful if you have not read anything about attachment theory and the link to self-regulation.
This is an excerpt from that article:
What might extreme or unhealthy ways of auto-regulation look like?
Unhealthy patterns of auto-regulation most often include behaviors that are attempts to control. A sense of control of people, places, and things provides a sense of safety; since it is vulnerability for children with attachment disorder that is the scariest position in which to be.
Individuals who feel completely out of control are going to fall apart and do anything they can to gain that control. They attempt to achieve control over other people, places, and things; they find this helps them to achieve control over their own activated nervous system and their emotions. For children, attempts to control can come out in physical, emotional, or psychological manner.
In physical control, children will exert physical force to cause fear in those around them. Rages, throwing and breaking items, and physically hurting others are attempts to control out of a need to help themselves feel better.
In emotional control, children will be able to play with the emotions of others, making others angry, sad, or happy. Depending on the background and prior experiences of the child, they may be quite “street-smart” at being able to know instinctively how to play others emotions to get what they need.
In psychological control, children will lie, triangulate relationships of those in authority, and otherwise manipulate. Much of this is done on such an instinctual level to help calm their own nervous system down; they feel that they are doing these things to survive.
These become the behaviors that seem crazy and extreme to parents of children with attachment disorder; therefore, make daily live very chaotic and difficult. It is dysregulating to live with a child with controlling behaviors The children are not able to communicate any of their internal happenings, so these behaviors come with no warning