You wake up and find yourself on an unfamiliar couch. What initially sounds like the static of a distant radio becomes the clear sound of an ocean beach, the only thing visible outside your sun-drenched hotel room. Blackened silhouettes pass the window, but the light is too bright to see anything but the sparkle of the tide.
Over the next hour, you become attuned to the sounds of the beach and hotel machinery, and the dark shadows jogging past give way to parents and children in brightly-colored swimwear. To reduce the sound while sipping coffee, you turn off the air conditioner, and you find you can more easily relax. This process is known as sensory regulation. Regulation is a key part of the Clinical Connections model. In describing regulation, Dr. Stanley Greenspan writes:
"[The child] must learn to distinguish different sounds, smells, and sights. And, they must learn how to organize themselves in the presence of a variety of stimuli. If those early sensory experiences are overwhelming, though, [the child] can tune out the world and lose their desire to interact. This stage focuses on staying calm and actively taking in information from the world, as well as sharing attention with others."
Regulation is essential for more than effective therapy. Training an independent sense of regulation will help children stay active while, for example, visiting parks, learning in school, or, eventually, entering the workforce. Regulation is a combination of identification of stimulus and its modulation; it's not enough to realize the music you're playing is the loud sound, but recognizing that your work focus will be better if you change its volume.
If you find yourself on the beach with your child, try exploring the independent stimuli to them, or challenge your child to identify each. This exercise will challenge your child to utilize their senses and practice identification while also helping to provide a sense of comfort with their surroundings. Pay attention to your child's regulation as you can and help them to recognize how to modify overwhelming or ineffective stimulus in their environment.