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The engine analogy is not the “be all and end all,” although the Alert Program® often uses the metaphor of a car engine running high, low, or just right. Young children relate to the playful side of it; adults drive and own cars, so they understand it from a practical standpoint. Naturally, each level has its place, but “just right” is the one to strive for when learning, making friends, or having dinner with family. Because everyone of us has an engine, children aren’t made to feel different. The engine analogy works for lots of kiddos.

Although we all have engines and we all self-regulate, some children don’t relate to the engine analogy. Some children have special interests. They might love trains so don’t bother trying to teach the engine analogy to a child who is passionate about trains. Use the train analogy instead.

Some children love dinosaurs so flow with that metaphor and use fast flying raptors for high, slow strolling brontosaurs for low, and steady and ready stegosaurus for just right. The point is to find which words capture the child’s ability to talk about their inner experience of self-regulation. Doesn’t matter what analogy you use as long as it has meaning to the child.

And what about older children or adult clients who don’t find the engine analogy useful? Typically, we ask them to choose words they like. Do a quick online search to show them examples of people in high, low, and just right states of alertness. Encourage the older child or adult to brainstorm options and then choose the words that best describe their levels of alertness. Some prefer choosing their own analogy and others prefer just simple words such as “high alert,” “low alert,” and “cruising.”

For those who are non-verbal (children or adults with disabilities) the Alert Program® concepts still hit the mark and are successful. The program can be adapted for all ages, populations, and settings. Learn how to adapt the program in our Online Course.

As you start using the Alert Program®, don’t forget to talk about your high, low, and just right states. When you are running around like a crazy person, you can’t find your keys, and are late for a meeting, you might say, “I’m running on high right now and I need to remember to take some deep breaths, so I can find my keys.” After your family members, colleagues, or students start learning about the Alert Program®, don’t be surprised if they start making suggestions. Here’s to all of us helping one another with self-regulation.

Learn more about the Alert Program® and the Alert Program® Online Course