My son’s occupational therapist recommended a program called ‘The Alert Program‘ based around the book ‘How Does Your Engine Run‘ by Williams and Shellenberger. This is an excellent program for teaching self awareness and emotional regulation. This is an area where many children struggle. If they are aware of their body states and emotions they are more able to do something about it.
The alert program teaches the child that their alertness levels are like an engine and that there are three main states of arousal. Their engine is either running too slow, too fast or just right. The book has pages to photocopy that includes pictures of people in various states, which the child can then sort into each category.
During our session my son sorted images of various people in various states of arousal. For instance boredom, tiredness and sadness are examples of an engine running too slow; relaxed, happy and focused are examples of an engine running just right; and angry, frustrated, anxious or over excited are examples of an engine running too fast.
This is language we now use at home when he is in various states of arousal and we talk about what we can do to change his engine speed when it becomes too slow or too fast.
At home we have been sorting photos of people showing various emotions and sorting them into the three categories, while also labelling the emotion, to enable him to recognise different emotional and arousal states in others.
As well as enabling children to become more aware of how their body is feeling, the program links strategies that the child can use to change their engine speed. These include sensory strategies as children will often seek different sensory experiences to change their state of arousal. This varies between children and it may be useful for you to document what your child seeks when they are anxious or bored, and also what stimulates or overstimulates them.
Engine speed is something we can all relate to. We all have times when our engines run too fast or too slow, so it is a strategy that can be taught to the whole family. And we can think about our own strategies for dealing with these times. Do we go for a walk, get some fresh air and take a break or take some deep breaths?
In the long term it his hoped that the child will be more able to regulate their own states of arousal and recognise when they need to slow down or speed up their engine. It has certainly helped my own children become more aware of how they are feeling.
For more information also see link.