Regulation by the Numbers

Making the Case for the Role of Objective Data in the Subjective World of Emotional-Regulation

Emotional-regulation is inherently subjective: my emotions are mine and mine alone. You may agree or disagree with how I should feel, though you can no more control emotions than the weather. When it comes to emotional-regulation, the goal is all about regulating the way you respond (i.e., behave), despite how you may be feeling, in order to meet the demands of the situation.

If the emotions we feel are out of our conscious control, it follows that asking a child to control his/her emotions is a recipe for failure, anxiety, frustration, and disillusionment. The focus, then, must shift to improving intentional, mindful, conscious control over behavioral responses in the midst of strong emotions. For many individuals, increased activity in the limbic, emotional brain is mirrored by decreased engagement of the cortical, thinking brain. In other words, stronger emotions = less critical thinking and more impulsive reacting.

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The challenge with emotional-regulation is that however aware you might be that a situation demands certain calm and collected behaviors, parts of the logical brain want to justify the experiences of the emotional brain. This is why we feel so good and justified (in the moment) when we yell at someone who has said something that triggers a strong, angry emotion. No one likes being told to “calm down” or “take a deep breath” at the height of experiencing a dysregulating emotion (however helpful those suggestions might be). In fact, for many children, the feeling of invalidation that comes with being told to “calm down” ultimately triggers greater emotional dysregulation. Kids, especially those who tend towards the impulsive side of the spectrum, are at a developmental disadvantage when it comes to emotional-regulation; the maturity and brain development that comes with reaching adulthood helps to create a bank of personal experience, world knowledge, and anticipation of future consequences that makes it easier to pause one’s initial reactions in order to devise a more useful response during emotionally triggering situations. While we, as adults, might have great regulation advice for a triggered child, the state of dysregulation can make it impossible for him/her to hear and process the advice. The subjective nature of emotions makes for rocky regulation-coaching terrain.

So what’s the solution? Turn a subjective process into what feels like a data-driven, objective process! Words and advice may feel biased, but numbers don’t lie. The Charting Re-Regulation worksheet is a simple way to help a child objectively see his/her patterns of regulation, and how long it typically takes to go from “super triggered” to “re-regulated.” Here’s how it works:

Step 1: Note the triggering situation and emotion(s) being felt (if this is too triggering in the moment, save this step until later).

Step 2: Mark the intensity of the emotion(s)…

  • At the time of the trigger
  • After one minute
  • After two minutes
  • Etc.

Step 3: Notice when the emotional intensity reaches 30% or below. This is usually an indication of being mostly re-regulated and ready to logically process and/or problem-solve.

Step 4 (optional): Record what tools/strategies you used at each phase of re-regulation. In other words, what helped at the 80%-100% range? What helped at the 60%-80% range? What helped at the 30%-60% range? Identifying helpful strategies provides a bank of regulating tools for future triggering situations.



Fill out a new worksheet for each of five or more triggering situations in order to have enough data to determine a pattern for how long it typically takes to feel re-regulated. Three minutes? Eight minutes? What children can glean from their own data is the time frame they need to fill with regulating tools before they can expect to feel calm. An average of three to four minutes in the 80%-100% zone might mean a quick labeling of the emotion(s) with three to four minutes of a distracting brain break (i.e., Daniel Siegel’s Connect and Redirect strategy). Does the re-regulation go pretty fast once the child is below the 80% mark? That might mean that he/she needs some quick, simple sensory and/or mindfulness tools to take up the remaining few minutes in the countdown to calm. Does re-regulation tend to take longer? Strategies like a reading or drawing break might be a better fit for a child who needs more time to truly return to a calm, regulated state.




In the examples included here, the child tends to remain highly dysregulated (80%-100% intensity) for two to three minutes across all situations. He reaches a re-regulated state (30% intensity or below) after six to seven minutes. Using the data he generated and collected, we collaboratively determined that an adult should wait at least seven minutes following a triggering situation to talk with him about what went wrong or how things could have been handled differently. In the meantime, he could pull from his bank of previously useful strategies to remain safe and mindful during the re-regulation process. After seven(ish) minutes, his thinking brain was more engaged and he felt ready to strategize with a peer or adult.

How else can charting re-regulating be beneficial?

  • Children receive concrete, visual feedback about the abstract, subjective process of emotional de-escalation. This feedback can be an important reminder to a frequently dysregulated child that he/she can successfully re-regulate!
  • Using a simple graph to chart the re-regulation process provides opportunities for children to note whether their emotion(s) changed throughout the process. Did they feel varying “shades” of angry the entire time, or did the emotion change to disappointed or confused? It’s important to remind children that emotions can change, and that we often feel multiple emotions at the same time.

You can access the worksheets using the PDF links below:

Charting Re-Regulation 1-10 min. intervals

Charting Re-Regulation write-in min. intervals

Know of other benefits? Share in the comments!

The Present NOW versus the NOW Bubble

 How is mindful awareness of now different from being stuck in a NOW Bubble?


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“There are only two ways to time travel (that we know of): to look at the stars and to think with the front of your brain.”


I heard this from a friend years ago while on a camping trip that offered some of the best stargazing I’d ever done. Although she was actually referencing a conversation about delayed light coming from the stars, this statement was the start of a deep fascination with the human brain’s ability to shift between awareness of the past, present and future. This phenomenon, known as mental time travel, encompasses our unique ability to use past experience, and future interest, to impact our decisions about present action. Mental time travel heavily involves the frontal lobe of the brain, especially the prefrontal cortex, and is at the crux of successful self-regulation. One’s ability to self-regulate is ultimately judged by how they act in the present moment. The integration of mental time travel into responding is dependent upon how well someone can expand his/her NOW Bubble long enough to self-assess his/her current state, past experiences, and future interests before acting.

Understanding the NOW Bubble

In Brain Talk, the curriculum I co-created with Carrie Lindemuth, the NOW Bubble is the immediate moment following a trigger or stimulus. In this moment, impulses are activated in order to drive action that seems most in line with the brain’s seek and/or avoid urges. For example, if someone cuts you off on the freeway, you may feel the impulse to yell out your car window in the NOW Bubble. For some, that impulse takes over and drives a reaction; they find themselves moving faster than the speed of thought. In this case, action is driven only by what would feel good right now; past experience and future interest are not considered.

Understanding mindful awareness of now

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is openhearted, moment-to-moment, nonjudgmental awareness of now (i.e., the present moment). Mindful awareness of now involves observational, curious examination of present emotions, sensations, and thoughts. For example, mindful awareness of now following news about a promotion at work might involve nonjudgmental identification of your emotional state (e.g., elated, proud, excited), sensations (e.g., warm, energetic, heart racing), thoughts (e.g., “This is going to be such a great opportunity!”), and impulses (e.g., desire to celebrate, wanting to share news with friends).

How do the now’s compare?

Being stuck in your rigid NOW Bubble makes you a hostage to your present impulses rather than an empowered participant in the present experience. One of the goals of mindfulness is to “insert the pause” between stimulus and response to allow for choice in how to respond rather than feeling “along for the ride” with your reaction. When practicing mindful awareness, you remain in control of your engagement with the now as opposed to the now is controlling you. The more effectively you can mindfully observe the now, the more you can expand your NOW Bubble to incorporate past experience and future goals. In other words, you are less likely to react faster than the speed of thought.

Often, one’s awareness of their present experience is rooted in his/her emotion(s) in the moment. Emotions are like the weather: you can’t control whether you have calm, gentle emotions or strong, stormy emotions. You can, however, control how you respond to your emotions. This is the core of emotional-regulation. Although you can’t control the forecast (emotional or weather forecast), you can engage mental time travel to sometimes predict your emotional experiences based on your past memories of a triggering situation. Acknowledging that similar triggers create similar emotional climates allows individuals, especially those with strong capacities for mental time travel, to anticipate how they might feel going into a situation. This creates a platform to proactively plan, practice, and master emotional coping strategies to help make uncomfortable situations a bit more comfortable.

Without awareness of your emotional state, your reactions are driven by the intensity of the feelings. In a highly triggering situation, the limbic (i.e., emotional, survival) brain shuts down communication with cortical thinking areas of the brain. This occurs as part of the brain’s survival mechanism: staying alive in a threatening situation is more important than engaging in critical thinking. The problem with this survival safeguard is that not all triggering situations are life threatening. Tests, public speaking, arguments with friends, schedule changes…while emotionally triggering, none of these lead to eminent demise. In triggering situations like these, cortical shut down prevents the brain from engaging in mental time travel to consider the past and future in order to manage the present. Mindful awareness of now allows you to be in a dynamic, aware, open, flexible cognitive “head space.” The cortical thinking brain remains online, meaning you are able to access present awareness (i.e., “What do I notice right now?”), past experience (i.e., “What do I know from the past?”), and future thinking (i.e., goal identification, anticipating consequences, awareness of emotional and/or physical motivation), in order to choose: do I follow my impulse and react, or do I consider my options and respond?



Brain Talk Curriculum is Officially HERE!

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It’s live y’all!

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Carrie Lindemuth and I couldn’t be more excited to announce that the Brain Talk curriculum and its official, new website, are finally here!

After countless hours of research, design and development, we can’t wait for you to begin using this new approach to metacognitive and executive functioning instruction, all for the introductory price of $50.00 for an annual subscription. Our “price point goal” is to (hopefully) make Brain Talk affordable and attainable for therapists, teachers, other professionals, and parents alike…without breaking the bank! The Brain Talk curriculum consists of eight units that introduce key components of the brain and build the narrative of neural integration. Each unit of the Brain Talk curriculum builds upon the previous unit, and includes a whiteboard animated video, lesson plans, and accompanying materials targeted to the students with whom you are working. Separate lesson plans and materials for each unit exist for early elementary, upper elementary, middle/high school, and a therapy model. An annual subscription to Brain Talk provides access to all units and curriculum materials, as well as new materials as they are added throughout the year.

All unit videos, as well as all instructional materials for units one through four, are currently available for download through the new site once you have purchased your subscription. The instructional materials for units five through eight are receiving their final touches, and will be available to subscribers by February 14th (A happy Valentine’s Day from Brain Talk). You can visit the Brain Talk website at to make the curriculum yours today!

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We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your interest and support, and can’t wait to have you as part of the Brain Talk family!

Building Metacognitive Skills with Brain Talk

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As adults, we spend an extraordinary amount of time thinking we’ve got our students’ and children’s problems figured out:

“I know why he’s mad…it’s because he can’t get the Legos to fit together!”

“She must be sulking because her friends left her out during recess today”

Grown ups certainly have more life experience than kids, and sometimes we are great at reading between the lines to sense what might be going on under the surface of a seemingly shallow problem. That being said, I’m always amazed at how often I (and others) forget to do the most logical first step in problem-solving with children: asking them what’s wrong. I’m not talking about a “grazing” question; the kind you ask when you already have an answer in mind and are merely extending a formality. I’m talking about a thoughtful, considerate, invitation into problem-solving and self-regulating dialogue; the type of invitation that comes along with Ross Greene’s initial steps of Collaborative Problem Solving (for more information about Collaborative Problem Solving, visit:

Here’s the tricky thing about asking a child to describe an underlying trigger for dysregulation: more often than not they don’t yet have the awareness and skills to effectively communicate it. The way I see it (stemming from my research brain rather than my opinion brain), you need the following, in this order, to effectively express a trigger for dysregulation:

1. Metacognition: the ability to think about your own thinking and emotional state well enough to figure out what’s going on internally. This is where brain learning and mindfulness-based strategies come in!

2. Self-regulation: regulation of your thoughts/attention, emotional responses, actions, and motivation in order to behave in an expected way for a given situation. Self-regulation and executive functioning are inherently tied, since self-regulation sandwiches executive function thinking skills (i.e., using mental schemas to manage complex tasks) by allowing for inhibition of impulses and the ability to follow through with the plan.

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3. Strong (or at least functional) verbal and nonverbal communication skills: collective expressive communication skills to allow you to get your ideas from your “thought bubble” into someone else’s “mind movie.”

I know I’m a speech-language pathologist, and therefore would typically hone in on the third step of this structure. But I’m a unique breed of SLP when it comes to my areas specialization, and I actually live far more in the domains of steps one and two. In my adventures (and misadventures) of working in the world of self-regulation and executive functioning (ok, ok, they’re essentially one in the same), I’ve become very clear that kids need to understand their brains. More generally, everyone should have a basic understanding of their brains that goes beyond “It has a left side and a right side.” As therapists (and teachers, and administrators, and psychologists-hi everyone!), we are, at the core, brain specialists. If we want kids to get to step three (effective communication of their triggers), we need to start by TEACHING them metacognition and self-regulation.

This matters so much to me and my fabulously brilliant colleague, Carrie Lindemuth, M.Ed/ET, that we created a curriculum designed to teach students about key concepts and functions of the brain: Brain Talk. This narrative-based curriculum consists of eight short, white-board animated videos and corresponding lessons plans, discussion points, worksheets, and activities. Different lesson plans and activities exist for early elementary, upper elementary, middle/high school, and a therapy model. Through these videos and the corresponding learning activities, students are introduced to their amygdala (Myg), basal pleasure-and-reward system (Buster), hippocampus (Ms. Hipp) and prefrontal cortex (The Professor), and what happens in the brain during a “Myg Moment” (i.e., fight/flight/freeze avoiding reaction) or “Buster Bam” (i.e., dopamine-driven grab-and-gulp reaction). Additionally, they learn how the integrated conversation (i.e., Brain Talk) between their “emotional” limbic brain and their “thinking” cortex leads to strategic thinking and self-regulated decisions.

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Many of us don’t have the opportunity to learn about our brains until we are in the midst of a crisis, whether it be anxiety, depression, hyper-impulsivity, or significant dysregulation. What a gift we could give to our students to teach them these critical metacognitive skills from the get-go! The Brain Talk curriculum is available through an annual subscription ($50.00/year) at the Brain Talk website ( An annual subscription to the curriculum provides access to the full curriculum suite, as well as new materials as they are added throughout the year.

Holy Moly Whole Body Listening

Let’s play a game called concrete or abstract. I’ll say a word and you decide if it’s concrete (simple to picture, describe and define) or abstract (context-based, dynamic, challenging to consistently define). Here we go:

1. MOOSE: Concrete or Abstract?

2. SUCCESS: Concrete or Abstract?

3. FORK: Concrete or Abstract?

4. LISTENING: Concrete or Abstract?

Today’s post is all about number four: Listening. Despite being one of the most common words I hear in K-8 classrooms (and I have no doubt it’s a high frequency word in high school as well), LISTENING is an abstract concept. My image of listening may be very different than your image of listening. Listening on the playground may look different than listening during a math lesson. Some teachers want students to listen with their ears alone, while others expect students to freeze whatever they might be doing in order to listen. Neurotypical students struggle to form consistent rules for listening, so imagine how challenging this is for children with language processing challenges, lack contextual awareness, challenges recognizing social cues, and overly rigid interpretations of social situations. We need a hero!!!!!

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WHOLE BODY LISTENING to the rescue! Whole Body Listening (WBL) is a term coined by Susanne Poulette Truesdale in 1990, and later adopted into the Social Thinking Curriculum (Michelle Garcia Winner). The goal of WBL is to transform an abstract concept (listening) into a concrete, highly comprehendible one. Rather than require children to determine what is meant by “Listen to me,” each part of the body is described as either active/on or quiet/off:


  • Ears are hearing what is being said
  • Eyes are looking at the speaker
  • Brain is thinking about what is being said
  • Heart is caring about how the speaker is feeling
  • Body (upper body) is facing the speaker


  • Mouth is quiet
  • Hands are quiet and not distracting self or others
  • Feet are quiet and not distracting self or others

Reinforcing WBL requires a shift from “Listen to me,” “I need everyone listening,” and “I’ll wait until the whole class is listening” to “I’m waiting for quiet mouths and eyes looking at me,” “Let’s be whole body listeners; brains, ears, eyes, and hearts on and mouths, hands, and feet quiet,” and “I will know you’re listening with your whole body when your hands and feet are quiet.” Taking the guesswork out of listening allows children to more quickly and easily understand the whole-body expectations of being a strong listener, allowing them to engage more successfully in classroom tasks.

At The School of The Madeleine in Berkeley, CA, we are bringing WBL to every classroom, K-8. Here are some creative ways to teach WBL skills to students in all grades:

Kindergarten through 2nd Grade: Read the Whole Body Listening Larry Books to teach students the components of WBL with the help of Larry, a lovable illustrated character: Whole Body Listening Larry at School by Kristen Wilson and Elizabeth Sautter and Whole Body Listening Larry at Home by Kristen Wilson and Elizabeth Sautter. You can then play “Larry says,” a spin-off of “Simon Says.”

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3rd through 5th Grade: Create crazy character collages and ask students to label whether the parts of WBL are being done in an expected way or an unexpected way.

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6th through 8th Grade: Collaborate with students to translate the traditional WBL Larry poster (most appropriate for younger students) into a foreign language being taught across the school. Additionally, older students can be encouraged to reinforce WBL for younger students during assemblies, transitions, buddy activities, etc.

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Whole School: Encourage “contagious quiet” across all grades in a school. Create a hand sign that represents WBL (like a ‘W’ with your fingers) and challenge students to see how quickly they can all “catch the quiet” when they see the hand sign.

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A happy child is a child who feels successful, and WBL is a fantastic strategy to allow all students to feel like successful listeners!

Mini Minute Executive Functioning (EF) Tuck-Ins

This one goes out to all the teachers who are looking for ways to support Executive Functioning without giving up your carefully planned lesson times. I work with a lot of K-8 teachers who are always on the lookout for quick and easy ways to target foundational EF skills within their existing classroom routines. The thing is, EF isn’t something you do separate from your regular curriculum. The more you know about EF, the better you get at realizing that so much of what teachers are already doing is supporting and improving students’ skills. It’s like a hidden super power! The goal of this post is to help teachers become more intentional about using their otherwise lost minutes of transition time to keep that EF momentum going!

Let’s say you have two minutes between the end of your math lesson and the lunch bell. What do you do?

(a) Tell students to take out a book and read

(b) Play the “quiet game”

(c) Use an EF tuck-in exercise

(d) Let absolute chaos reign

Using our own inferential skills, let’s examine the likely outcomes of each scenario:

(a) Your announcement = 20 seconds, getting out books = 40 seconds, opening to the right page = 15 seconds, reading one paragraph = 25 seconds …then…time to clean up (followed by copious amounts of “grumble grumble grumble”). Effective? I think not!

(b) Students are annoyed with having to be quiet, you’re annoyed they can’t be quiet…who wins at the quiet game? No one!

(c) Students have fun and improve their EF skills!

(d) Total destruction of the classroom (and your sanity).

In case you’re still scratching your head, I’ll give you a hint: the answer is C. There are countless EF teachable moments (and I do mean moments) during a typical school day: lessons end a little early, students need something to keep them busy in line, you name it! Here are some ideas to turn those lost minutes into EF learning treasure troves, while simultaneously supporting general education skills.


EF Tuck-Ins for Cognitive Flexibility

  • Word Association: Begin by saying a random word. Snake through all students in the class, having each student say the first thing that comes to their mind when they hear the word from the student just before them. This fun game strengthens association pathways in the brain and supports cognitive flexibility during conversations (i.e., the ability to connect to others’ ideas).
  • Two-Word Association: Create a jar of random words. During the tuck-in, select two words from the jar and ask a student to come up with some way those words can be related. This task encourages strong concept association and mental flexibility.
  • Ask students to generate antonyms, synonyms, or a shade of meaning (i.e., a word that means slightly more or less intense than the provided word) for a target word. For example, if the word is happy, the antonym could be sad, the synonym could be glad, and the shade of meaning could be content (less intense) or excited (more intense).
  • Ask students to respond to yes/no questions with an answer that doesn’t involve yes or no (e.g., “Do you like carrots?” response: “Only when they are dipped in ranch”). This task requires engagement of “slow thinking” over automatic “fast thinking.”

EF Tuck-Ins for Working Memory (all tasks done verbally)

  • Ask students to repeat back increasingly longer sequences of numbers in the opposite order of how you give them (e.g., if you say “3-5-7-2,” students say “2-7-5-3”).
  • Give students a target word and ask whether various letters are in the word. This requires students to hold the word in their mind while scanning it for letters.
  • Ask students to verbally spell a target word forwards, then backwards. Switch between common, overlearned words and grade-level vocabulary or spelling words.

EF Tuck-Ins for Inferential Thinking

  • Provide three attributes of a secret object and ask students to make a smart guess about the object you’re describing (e.g., it’s white, it comes from a cow, you drink it). The more nuanced the clues, the more challenging the task.
  • Provide students with an obscure word that has a commonly known root (or a word in a different language). Ask them to make a smart guess about the meaning of the word based on a recognizable root.

EF Tuck-Ins for Problem Solving

  • Provide age-appropriate What Would You Do scenarios to students (e.g., “What would you do if your friend got an ugly hair cut and asked what you thought?” or “What would you do if you were invited to a party and didn’t want to attend?”), and ask them to generate the most expected response they can think of.
  • Ask students to judge the grammaticality of a sentence. If it’s incorrect, ask them to correct it.
  • Present If…Then verbal problems for students to solve (e.g., If Jenny is shorter than Billy, Billy is shorter than Mark, William is taller than Tony, and Mark is the same height as Tony, who is the tallest?”).

EF Tuck-Ins for Categorization

  • Provide four+ words or numbers to all students. Ask the students to determine how they can be sorted into two+ categories based on attributes, functions, locations, materials, appearance, etc. You can use random words/numbers or ones that relate to a current lesson.
  • Provide four words that all connect through a shared attribute except for one. Ask students to identify which one word does not belong and why. The more nuanced the isolating difference, the more challenging this task will be.
  • Provide a category to students (e.g., animals, literary genres, Greek Gods, vehicle types, colors, etc.) and ask them to generate as many items as they can that belong in that category in a given amount of time.

EF Tuck-Ins for Gestalt vs. Details

  • Show a picture scene to the whole class. Ask each student to write or say the gestalt (i.e., big idea) of the picture scene and the three most relevant details that support the gestalt. This helps students improve part vs. whole awareness and how parts are relevant to the whole.
  • Ask students to tell as many parts of an object as they can think of (e.g., parts of a tree: roots, trunk, branches, leaves, etc.). Encourage students to use a strategy to determine parts (e.g., move from the bottom to the top of the object, move from small to large parts, etc.).

Here’s to a whole new, EF-filled school year!

All Aboard the Friend Ship

Remember when you had to memorize all the presidents of the United States for U.S. History Class…in order?!? It took me about 2 minutes of blankly staring at flash cards to realize I was never going to cement those names through repetition alone. So where does one turn for help at 10:00pm the night before the test? Music, of course! The Animaniacs saved my tush that night with their president song (proof here: Kids are a lot like me when it comes to learning (or should I say I learn a lot like a little kid…): they do better with multimodal, experiential, and “stuck-in-your-head” leaning styles than mere lecture from adults.

Raise your hand if you find it easier to engage kids in post-play cleaning when you sing the “Clean up, clean up, everybody, everywhere…” song (did you really raise your hand? No one can see you, silly!). That’s because the song jumpstarted a memory for the child (hippocampus activation) that it’s time to clean. We use songs in all corners of education: ABC’s, rainbow colors, counting, wh-questions, etc. I think I can skip the part where I spend a whole paragraph convincing you why songs matter for learning, because our scientific community has already agreed that music activates important association and learning centers in the brain. Instead, I want to introduce you to my favorite new set of songs for facilitating social regulation, social cognitive, and social emotional development: The Friend Ship.

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You may or may not know that I spend my days targeting social regulation skills with “boys and girls of all ages” (yeah, it’s a bit like the circus!). I am forever on the hunt for innovative ways to help my clients both learn and generalize the key concepts of expected social communication, and music is a personal favorite strategy of mine. The Friend Ship, created by speech-language pathologist Erica Bland, is a CD of songs all about social regulation. With titles like: “What’s the Plan,” “Adding to the Fun,” and “What Zone Are You In,” the songs take teaching and reinforcement phrases I find myself using like a broken record and puts them to a soundtrack of kid-friendly rock, reggae, and hip hop. Whether the songs are used as direct teaching tools or are just on as background music during collaborative play, I find that my clients are humming and singing along after the first couple replays.

Want a sneak peak? Have a listen:

So how do you get this musical gold mine? Here are a couple ways to make it happen (p.s. it’s only $9.95!!!!!):

Erica also created a companion packet of family or therapist-led support activities to go along with each song. In other words, your lesson plan is already done! So drop whatever you’re doing, pump up the Friend Ship jams, and get your social regulation on!