Looking At Stressors: Kids Really Want To Do Well

Kids Really Want To Do Well

When we see kids going against the grain, avoiding the task or simply non-compliant, we are quick to assume they are misbehaving. We wonder why they’re choosing to be disrespectful, aggressive or in-your-face confrontational! They swear, throw things in the class, ignore your instructions, disregard social norms, avoid or flee. Why? Why this child and why today? Why not yesterday or the day before? Why not all last week but only today? Will it be tomorrow too? We ask ourselves these questions over and over in an attempt to get this kid to comply and yet nothing works. If it does, it never lasts for long.

We try behaviour charts, token reward systems, first and then boards or the ‘catch and praise’ technique and my personal favourite,(insert sarcasm), the preferred inventory, to name a few. Behaviour management systems has long been the preferred method for dealing with children with behaviour issues. We place so much focus on trying to stop the behaviour that we blind ourselves to why it’s happening in the first place.

My enlightened self has dove in and become a full on advocate of understanding self-regulation. I always knew a better way and practiced many of the fundamental ideals of self-regulation but didn’t grasp the full scale, nor did I have a label for it until I began studying via the Shanker Method®. That in of itself, has been a breakthrough in my learning journey.


The first step to understanding self-regulation, for me, has been understanding stressors. Stressors are those things that happen by accident or by design, that cause us to expend energy and then recover. It is the quantity and quality of stress that dictates how much energy we use and how much it will cost us to recover. Have our alarms been kindled and primed over time, or are we just starting to recognise new stressors from new environments? It is how well we understand and are able to self-regulate that indicates our success from exposure and recovery of this energy and recognising that not all stress is negative! As we can guess, some things are more energy expensive than others. When we look at potential stressors we must look critically at all the domains of development, for without each the puzzle is incomplete. These include: biological, emotion, cognitive, social and finally prosocial.

Let’s take a closer look.

 Biological: Stressors that cause change in our bodies and affect us physically.

Ex- Strong smells, heat, clothing tags.

Emotion: As opposed to ‘emotional’ which is really dealing with feelings, emotion is looking internally and why we may react the way we do, sometimes without knowing we have, why we did or how it really felt.

Ex- Death, marriage, employment or loss of it.

Cognitive: This is the brain connection and is often associated with academic demands. Lack of scaffolding tasks, expectations that are still beyond our capabilities or insufficient time to complete tasks.

Ex- tests, unpreparedness, including right tools or team.

Social: The stress of understanding social conventions, mindblindness, difficulty seeing others thinking/feeling.

Ex- Parties, employment, relationships

Prosocial: Dealing with others stress and anxiety.

Ex- Lack of community resources, safe havens, professional services.

As you may notice all 5 domains link together. One affects the other and therefore one stressor may be affected through all or most of the domains. It is cyclical.


By being a ‘stress detective’, we open up the possibilities to see what we haven’t seen before. We start by reframing the behaviour to see it as stress behaviour and then dive a little deeper to recognise the stressors, looking for the cause.


Kids really do want to do well. They are not actively looking for ways to sabotage your classroom, your home or your relationship. They simply can’t find a way out. They don’t recognise there’s a problem, they’re just dealing with stress the best way they know how. Finding the stressors leads us to problem solve. It’s up to us to be the sleuth, help them understand why they do the things they do, how their body and brain react, how to recognise it and most importantly how they can manage it.

Being a stress detective, helps others see because, kids really do want to do well!

It’s all about relationships.

Gail Molenaar B.A, RECE,

Self-Regulation consultant and Forest and Nature School Practitioner

Follow me on FacebookWander Wild Wonder or on Twitter @Rylone3

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