Five Ways to Improve 'Self-Regulation' in Traumatized Youth

A caregiver comforts a teenage boy.
1. Involve caregivers. “Sometimes context gets overlooked,” says psychologist Desiree W. Murray. “It’s surprising how few interventions for self-regulation involve parents.” She says that young people observe how adults model self-regulation, which is one of the first steps toward developing it themselves.

Self-regulation is more than just the ability to stop your worst impulses—it’s a whole range of positive behaviors and skills, including the ability to delay gratification and assess risk. Recent research has shown self-regulation to be foundational to a wide range of health and well-being outcomes, including mental health, school and career preparedness, and socioeconomic success. While it was long assumed that self-regulation is fully established by the time a person reaches school age, a growing body of research has shown that it can be taught and cultivated as late as adolescence.

“There’s a misconstrued idea that early childhood is the only time to teach self-regulation, but there’s a tremendous restructuring of the brain that happens in early adolescence in particular,” explains Desiree  W. Murray, PhD., a psychologist leading a research team at Duke University’s Center for Child and Family Policy. Funded by a contract with the Administration for Children and Families to study self-regulation interventions and identify program implications, the team hopes to release their report in early 2015. 

For now, Murray shared her recommendations for how youth-serving programs can help traumatized or at-risk youth develop better self-regulation. 

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