Self-regulation is a tool every Back2Back Cincinnati staff member is equipped and ready to offer the teens they serve. While the phrase itself may sound complicated, how to reach self-regulation can actually be easy. For the children and teens in Cincinnati, it starts with mints and gum.
When a child who is dysregulated chews on a piece of gum or sucks on a mint, they are using a calming technique that engages their focus and calms their nerves by requiring the use of their joints. It is the equivalent of a nervous adult chewing on a pen cap to focus or calm down. Staff carry around mints and gum, and the children know when they ask for a piece, the answer is always yes. This positive reinforcement encourages them to use their voice.
Back2Back staff, Brandy Pendleton, runs socially distanced Nurture Groups at partnering agency, Boys and Girls Club. Nurture Groups are a trauma-informed space where teens and children are taught the value of their own voice, when to use it appropriately, and how to harness and manage their emotions in healthy ways.
Brandy was recently in the gym cleaning up her supplies from group when a young man approached her with a small grin on his face. “Would you like a mint?!” James* boasted.
“I would love one of my mints,” Brandy replied with a smile.
“I only took a couple,” he replied, while pointing across the gym to another student, “He took all of them.”
Brandy called the other young man over and introduced herself, and James explained to Cam*, the other young man, where the mints they took came from.
“Gentlemen, my name is Ms. Brandy. It’s nice to meet you both; you will see me here often – I love coming here to share with you my time, resources, games, knowledge . . . anything I have, I’m willing to share, but always with permission.” The two young men reached into their pockets and returned the mints to Brandy.
A week later, Brandy was leading their class in Nurture Group when she asked for volunteers to do “talking work.” James volunteered right away, and Brandy introduced him to the group as she explained over the next several months, they’re going to learn how to Take Good Care. “Today, all around the world, we are struggling to take good care – of ourselves and of each other,” Brandy explained. “It’s important for all of us – children and adults – to understand we can always say what we need to say, but we should always do it with respect.”
James immediately perked up and offered, “Yeah, like when you had to call me to the carpet last week! You called me out, but you didn’t make me feel like a jerk. I wish other adults would learn how to do that, too.”
Their time ended with the compliment game, where everyone was encouraged to give each other compliments. Cam asked if he could go, but when he found out compliments were required, he wanted to back out. “Never mind, I don’t wanna go. I don’t have nice things to say.” James didn’t hesitate to reassure his friend, “It’s okay! I have a lot of nice things to say about you, and Ms. Brandy can help you say nice things about me.”
Their first encounter may have been over stolen mints, but the two teens now show up regularly for Nurture Groups with Brandy. They are slowly learning the value of taking good care of each other – in words and in deeds.