You may have heard of the term ‘co-regulation’ before, but what exactly does it involve?
Co-regulation is an essential tool to foster the development of self-regulation skills in children and young adults. Children experience emotions like anger, frustration, and stress, and co-regulation provides a safe and supportive environment for them to handle these intense feelings, ultimately learning how to self-regulate over time.
In this blogpost, we’ll explore co-regulation and share valuable tips for parents to effectively co-regulate with their children.
What is Co-Regulation?
Co-regulation is defined as the process through which a child acquires self-regulation skills by interacting with a calm and trusted adult. It goes beyond merely calming one tantrum or meltdown. Co-regulation involves consistent modelling and teaching of essential self-regulatory strategies over time. This rewiring of the brain equips children with the ability to self-regulate in the long term. Co-regulation is essential for children of all ages, helping them recognise and manage their emotions, leading to a healthier, more controlled response to challenging situations. Ultimately, co-regulation leads to self-regulation.
Children don’t have the ability to recognise when they are becoming out of control, so they rely on a trusted adult to offer tools and strategies to support their needs. The key factor is to be consistent and provide a calm, respectful and safe environment to calm their dysregulated nervous system. Over time, the child will develop a greater understanding of their own body clues and regulation needs. For example, they may start to learn that when their voice gets louder and fists clench, they need to take a break. On average, the first 7 years of a childs life will be focused on co-regulation. However, many children older than 7 (including adults!) still require support to regulate their emotions.
The Importance of Co-Regulation
Co-regulation holds immense significance for human development for several key reasons outlined below:
- Attachment and trust: Co-regulation is the cornerstone for building secure attachments and healthy social relationships. From birth to young childhood, children rely on their caregivers to calm their emotions. When a baby cries, their caregiver will soothe them. This is an example of co-regulation, which builds secure attachment and trust.
- Emotional development from birth to adulthood: Children cannot self-regulate their emotions, until they can co-regulate with a trusted adult. It is the foundational step required in order for individuals to better understand their feelings and develop healthy ways to calm themselves. As a co-regulated child ages, they will be able to navigate life’s complexities and challenges with an ability to regulate their emotions independently.
- Improving mental health: Co-regulation is essential for promoting emotional wellbeing and reducing stress and anxiety in children. Children who experience co-regulation in childhood will develop a greater sense of self, improve self-confidence and reduce the risk of future mental health challenges.
- Improving behaviour: Co-regulation demonstrates positive social behaviours and boundaries. A child will observe their trusted adult and how they respond in a period of dysregulation. This will influence the child’s behaviour in social environments, helping them handle conflicts more effectively.
- Improving relationships with parents & caregivers: Co-regulation strengthens the parent-child bond by providing a safe and secure environment for the child when they are experiencing challenging emotions, ultimately strengthening the whole family unit.
Co-Regulation Strategies for Parents & Caregivers
Here are some practical strategies to employ when co-regulating with your child. Remember, every child is unique, so adjust these strategies to your child’s needs and temperament. The ultimate goal is to provide a safe and secure environment where your child feels supported and loved. Remember, when a child is dysregulated, they will not be able to access their “thinking” part of their brain and cannot make rational decisions at the time. So reduce language, co-regulate and ride the wave.
- Maintain Your Calm: This can be difficult, but it is essential! Imagine that you are upset, and someone starts shouting at you. It will make you feel significantly worse. From the moment your child starts to become heightened or distressed, take a few deep breaths, stay calm and don’t raise your voice. You are modelling emotional control for your child.
- Connect with Your Child: Connect with your child by getting on their level and looking in to their eyes. You may also hold their hands, give them a gentle touch or put your hands on their shoulder. This reassures them that they are safe and not alone in their emotions.
- Validate and Label Emotions: In a moment of chaos, it is important that your child feels heard, but remember to limit your words. Help them understand their emotions by labelling them: “I can see you are angry” or “you are really upset right now,” It is not a time for teaching and threatening. Even if it seems trivial, acknowledge and label their emotions.
- Provide a Safe Space: Do not leave your child alone or shut them in a room. Respect your child’s need for space if they request it but remain nearby to ensure their safety.
- Model Deep Breathing: Deep breathing is a simple but widely used coping skill which can be very powerful in reducing stress. Start by modelling deep breathing, and your child may soon join you or start to regulate through the rhythm of your breaths.
- Calm through Sensory Strategies: Depending on your child’s preferences, sensory strategies like a weighted blanket, gentle rocking or turning the lights off can help the nervous system during moments of dysregulation.
In conclusion, co-regulation is a vital process for improving self-regulation capacity in children. It fosters secure attachments, promotes healthy relationships and social boundaries, and improves overall emotional wellbeing.