Citation Excavation and Self-Reg Experimentation

 In Self-Regulation Institute Blog

This past Fall 2018 semester, I undertook the exciting project of excavating the important research that went into the development of Stuart Shanker’s Self-Reg: How to Help Your Child (and You) Break the Stress Cycle and Successfully Engage with Life. I learned so much through this process about not only the Self-Reg theory itself, but the practical implications that Self-Reg can have for a student trying to manage stressors. The steps so carefully outlined in the book were reflected in my own experiences this semester as I both succeeded and failed in my own self-regulation attempts. It provided me a chance to grow not only my skills as a researcher, but as a person by forcing me to take a step back and look at the basics.

Self-Reg has been incredibly useful and insightful for parents in understanding how stress affects not only their children but themselves. In the book Dr. Stuart Shanker fully outlines his Self-Reg model in a truly accessible and impactful way. As interest has grown in using the Self-Reg model for research purposes, there has been a call for a deeper understanding of the research Dr. Shanker used to support his revolutionary framework. While the research supporting this theory will continue to grow and evolve, for research to be truly rigorous it is important to go back to the basics and understand the foundations of a theory, as it provides the framework from which new ideas can be generated.

When I was first presented with the chance to work on the Citation Excavation, as I dubbed it, I was both very excited and incredibly daunted by the prospect. It felt as though I stood at the edge of a vast and unnavigable jungle, with scant provisions and no map to speak of. The exciting information and knowledge which lay inside, however, were much too tempting to resist, so I rolled up my sleeves and plunged into the fray.

To my immense surprise (and relief) after a few steps I found myself on a path.

Reading through the book for the first time was honestly magical. It is such a perfect balance of personal examples and empirical research I found myself so drawn into the book that I missed my bus-stop when I was reading it on my way home!

Still, as a student of rigorous research, I could see the need for additional and developed citations. There were several places in which I desperately wanted more information so I could read through the studies referenced. Keeping this in mind, I read through the book again and noted the points where I was left wanting more. After completing this, I encountered my first real obstacle.

In my metaphorical jungle, my path had brought me to a deep, wide river of literature. Just the introduction and first chapter had almost 30 citations, but as a the great author Michael Rosen once wrote, “We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it…We’ve got to go through it!” (1989).

So I did.

Originally I had planned to try and get through as many books as I could so that I could pinpoint as accurately as possible which citations matched with what information. But by week three I was feeling exhausted. I had begun procrastinating on my school work, going to bed later, and sleeping through most of the morning.

Although it took me a while to get there, I finally remembered the core steps to transforming behavior outlined in the Self-Reg model.

  1. Read the signs and reframe the behavior. I recognized that my procrastination and changing sleep habits were a product of my stress
  2. Identify the stressors. I realized that I had too much on my plate, and I simply didn’t have the downtime I needed to recover from my stress.
  3. Reduce the stress. At this point, I will admit, I faltered somewhat in my efforts. Although I had recognized that I was overstressed, instead of actually reducing the stress I tried to forge ahead and see if I could push through it.

I thought that if I could just get through the next assignment, the next test, then my stress would be reduced. I was wrong.

Eventually I dropped an overload course I was taking, and that was enough to somewhat return to a state of calm.

Unsurprisingly, while I was busy being stressed, time still continued to tick by, and I discovered that I did not have time to read every single book (nor did I ever, to be honest). Luckily the group we have at the Self Regulation Institute (SRI) is incredibly supportive, and they opened my eyes to the value of summaries, abstracts and a team of experts who have already read the material and can advise. Since this was my first time having to synthesize such a vast amount of information, these wonderful resources had completely escaped my attention.

Finally the work I had been pecking away at over the semester really started to come together into a coherent picture. I had made it through the jungle, slightly the worse for wear, but overall happy and excited about what I had accomplished.

So what did I learn from this experience? Well, this is where the last two core steps in the Self-Reg model come in:

  1. Reflect. I still need to work on identifying when I’m stressed early on, but I’ve learned a few more signs that I can keep an eye on.
  2. Respond. I don’t yet know what makes me calm, but it’s something that I’m working on, and will likely continue to work on throughout my life as it evolves.

Overall, the biggest takeaway from this project for me is that Self-Reg isn’t a magical fix to everything. It’s a process, and one which you have to take the time to learn. It’s okay if you don’t get it right the first time, or even the 100th time, as long as you’re willing to keep trying.


Rosen, M. (1989). We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. London, UK: Walker Books.

Shanker, S. (2016). Self-Reg: How to help your child (and you) break the stress cycle and successfully engage with life. New York, NY: Penguin Press.

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