Regulation, safety and sensory understanding for child behaviour

Hey Kate here,


So I think I chatted last time about the work from Mona Delahooke from her book Beyond Behaviours that I’ve been reading and I spoke about whether we look at a child’s behaviour from a bottom up or a top down approach. 

Now psychologist are particularly trained in the top down approach. Meaning they get lots of training in how to modify thinking skills.  But since I’ve been working in the area of autism for some time, my understanding about the sensory and regulatory systems has absolutely had to evolve beyond my earlier education and training.  And she talks about this as needing to be incorporated for a better way of understanding all children’s behaviour better.  She also talks about the importance of the sensory system and understanding when that system is being stressed and what behaviour might be communicated because of that. 

And while I feel that this is just common sense, that when we are well regulated and feel contained and secure, ‘misbehaviour’ or challenging behaviour is much less likely this is not necessarily an assumption in all settings. It’s clear to me that when a child or young person is uncertain, anxious, hyper vigilant, that is when we will see behaviour that is is described as problematic, inappropriate etc. So trying to teach, reward or skill up when that body and brain system is still being stressed is going to be largely ineffective. 

So I love that Mona is able to clearly articulating about this missing piece in the child psychology lens.  So if you are seeing behaviours of concern and you’ve been trying to educate, reason, instruct, reward etc to try and make a change, perhaps try a different tact. 

Think about whether they are able to regulate, think about their ability to engage with you, their ability to communicate easily back and forth and their ability to describe their difficulties. 

And do a good check on their sensory profile-are they avoiding or seeking input to try and regulate the self in some way.  If so, then attend to this and provide as much as support for this as possible.

By doing these things first-within the environment of a safe trusting space, you may see behavioural difficulties subside before (or instead of) a skill, behavioural plan approach is even required.


You can catch the full video here and I hope you will join me next Friday from my Kate French Facebook page.  If you’d like, to I welcome you to switch your notifications on so that you know when I’ve gone Live and you can join me and pop any questions you have into the chat.

Published by Kate French

Clinical Psychologist; expertise in autism and child and family psychology.

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