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When the Alert Program® first got rolling, it was an idea in search of a visual. Children and adults alike needed to wrap their brains around a mental picture of three basic alert levels – high, low and middle, or what the program developers call “just right.”

A little car came to mind. Maybe lurching to life on a cold morning, reluctant to get out of first gear, and zooming home on the freeway after work, upshifting into fifth gear, carefree and ready to rock and roll. And then, let’s say, in third gear, that optimal speed, good for motoring through town, because the driver can read all the signs, make turns, stop when she needs to, pay attention to pedestrians.

But the car metaphor is just one approach. It’s not for everyone. Take a moment to imagine yourself in each state to get a personal sense of what each one feels like. Climbing out of bed before that first stretch – let alone that first cup of coffee: That’s low, alright. Rushing home from work to get dinner on the table in time to head out to basketball/band/dance/karate practice? Oh, yeah, that’s high. Or finding out your presentation to your biggest client was just pushed up a week – that will throw you into high. Now think about just right. You’re in the middle of a really good novel and you’re just about to settle into your favorite recliner to pick up where you left off. Or you’re meeting your best friend for dinner and a good catch-up. You’re relaxed, focused, attentive. That’s the optimal “just right” state.

You can count on kids and teens to have their own ideas. Explore what self-regulation descriptors help to describe their inner experience of self-regulation (changing how alert they feel). For youngsters, consider the Winnie the Pooh characters. Tigger for high, Eeyore for low and Pooh for just right (provided he has a good supply of honey.) Dinosaurs work too. The fast flying raptor for high; a slow, ambling brontosaurus for low; and the ready, steady stegosaurus for just right. Teens, as you’re probably well aware, like to have things on their own terms. Help them choose their own words such as zoomin’, draggin,’ and cruisin’ (for just right).

The words and images don’t really matter as long as everyone understands their meaning. If you’re frantically looking for your car keys and your teen-age son hollers out, “Yikes, Mom, you’re practically in blackbird!” you’re going to want to know he’s talking about one of the fastest jets ever built, not something that’s going to make a mess on your windshield.

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