Child Misbehaviour and Energy

While studying for my masters in Social Work, I had my sights set on working with adults in probation. I strongly felt that my psychotherapy service would be best suited for an older justice-involved population. After working some time with these adult probation clients and hearing their childhood and adolescent stories of self-regulation failure in school, with authority, in their behaviour and in their learning habits, this changed. I started to wonder whether working with a younger age group might be more preventative and supportive. So I started to work with justice-involved young adults and teenagers struggling with self-regulation. Their stories mirrored the adult males I worked with in probation, but even these youth expressed early childhood difficulties of how their formative years were laden with strife and misunderstanding. So I made my way to working with an even younger population with the rationale that it would be preemptive in supporting youth with behavioural difficulties and or serious mental health challenges.

Today while I continue to work with adults across a spectrum of need, I also work with children and believe that the neuroscience evidence is overwhelming with regard to the benefits of exercise, coordinated sport activity, meditation, yoga, psychotherapy and other body, mind and brain activities. Approaches that integrate these elements have been shown to improve brain structure and brain function with signs that early intervention has significant long-term benefits.

As I aM (AIM) – Addressing Child Behavioural Problems

I have developed a new program called Activity Integrated Mindfulness (AIM) for adolescent ages 12-14 that addresses the self-regulation needs of this population. AIM (which stands for both Activity Integrated Mindfulness and As I aM) is a health and wellness psychotherapy that includes mindfulness in movement. This individual, family and/or group program is designed for boys and girls ages 9-12 to facilitate body, mind and brain integration. Just “As I Am” is the overall principle that encourages self acceptance while clients learn:

  • Self-regulation skills that build resiliency
  • Mindfulness in movement and multiple breathing skills
  • Yoga and basic martial arts
  • Mastery, Trust and Psychological Flexibility

Operating out of an Experiential Exercise Psychotherapy (EXP) model, it is understood that self-regulation is a limited but renewable resource and that self-regulation failure results from the depletion of self-regulation resources (energy) and not a motivational or moral failing. Moreover, the biochemical individuality of each person determines how much of this resource is used and which activities deplete it. There is no cookie cutter solution and the approach is specific to the individual. Therefore, the As I aM program takes the position that participants already have what they need, to be the best they can be and that conservation and conscientious direction of their limited but renewable energy is the path to self-regulation success in endeavors that matter to them. As I aM will assist participants in understanding the

  • importance of personal energy
  • how energy flow is inherent in the body, mind and brain and
  • how to recognize when it is depleted so that
  • the energy can be renewed for self regulation success.

As I aM will assist participants in understanding how they can best direct their limited energies in the activities they already value rather than adding onto their workload with new practice activities that will only serve to further deplete resources. Through conservation, more efficient direction, graduated extension of the activity and recharge, participants will gain a foundation for increasing their self-regulation capacity as they mature into their self-regulation skills. As I aM operates from the position that the child is already perfectly whole and that further integration of this body, mind and brain is the working foundation for more efficient energy to do what a child wants to do and needs to do for successful self-regulation.

Stress, School and Self-Regulation

In my practice, I have seen a growing number of adolescents and young adults struggling with stress and anxiety.  This translates into difficulties which unfortunately are not being effectively considered within the educational system. A recent article in the Toronto Star on Student Stress interviewing York Professor Stuart Shanker highlights the problem.

“Life is very complex; our children are exposed to stressors in everything from video games to junk food, and anxiety is one of the biggest problems in elementary schools, high schools, even post-secondary,” said Shanker.

My own experience in treating clients through programs like Mindfulness Martial Arts and Taming the Bull, is that self-regulation is key to addressing what Shanker calls the core-competencies. A recent report published by the People for Education outlines the five core social-emotional competencies (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, interpersonal relationships and decision-making).  I am personally very pleased to see advocates suggesting that schools focus greater attention on student well-being, mental health and social-emotional development.

Is Exercise a Prescription for Mental Health?

Current “wisdom” encourages individuals to exercise as a solution to just about every ailment imaginable and this is understandable given all the evidence that exercise has numerous benefits to overall health and well-being.  But for individuals who struggle with mental health, even getting started is a challenge.  A recent article by the BBC highlights a new sports program in England attempting to overcome obstacles to physical activity and exercise for individuals with mental health issues. I see this as a positive development, however simply prescribing exercise may not be an option for everyone.

In my experience, a critical step to improving mental health is addressing self-regulation; something which is vital to daily life. Individuals who suffer with anxiety and depression often experience difficulties with self-regulation that negatively impact motivation, sleeping patterns and eating habits. Simply adding exercise to the daily routine of an individual who is already under resourced and strained may garner some benefits, but is likely to result in self-regulation failure in the long run.

I have found that integrating exercise within the context of the counselling process, something I call Experiential Exercise Psychotherapy (or EXP for short), holds promise for those who encounter mental health and self-regulation challenges. By improving self-regulation skills that combine physical/social and cognitive/emotional strength building, individuals experience incremental gains that create a foundation for further growth.

When I began developing and using the principles of EXP (where body, mind and brain activities were continuously integrated within the therapeutic relationship), clients successes became apparent across a spectrum of life activities. So while I support participation in exercise and sport activities wholeheartedly, I am skeptical about prescribing it as a standalone antidote for individuals struggling with poor self-regulation and mental health issues.

Pot and the Teenage Brain

Here is an interesting Globe and Mail article that discusses the impact of marijuana on the young brain.  I was especially fascinated to read about the learning problems of an overtaxed brain as well as the risks for potential psychosis associated with pot use.