The Power of Co-Regulation in Child Development

March 7, 2024

Have you ever noticed how our mood can shift throughout the day? Maybe we start off feeling energized and focused, but then something happens that throws us off balance, and suddenly we feel overwhelmed and irritable. We then need to adapt to feel better again. To do this we must rely on our ability to adjust and control our energy, emotions, behaviors, and attention. That describes self-regulation.

However, many children struggle with regulating their emotions and impulses. In these situations, adults often resort to coercive methods like commands, threats, and punishments. But this can backfire, leading to more resistance and less ability to manage big feelings.

Self-regulation isn’t something we’re born with; it’s a skill that develops over time, starting from infancy. Holding, rocking, and connecting with the baby actually helps them learn to regulate their emotions. This process of co-regulation is crucial in our early development. It helps us learn to share experiences and emotions with others, leading to shared enjoyment and a sense of connection.

Co-regulation is the way we adjust ourselves when interacting with others. It’s how we support each other in regulating our energy, attention, feelings, and behaviors. By providing a reliable and comforting presence, adults can help children learn to manage their big emotions and develop long-term self-control.

Here are three tips to keep in mind when helping your child through co-regulation:

1. Nurture Your Own Regulation

It’s important to notice how you feel and react during tough moments with a child. Pay attention to your thoughts and beliefs about their behavior too. Try strategies like deep breaths or positive self-talk to stay calm. When you respond calmly, you’re not just helping yourself—you’re also preventing the child’s upset from getting worse and showing them how to manage emotions in a healthy way. It’s not easy to accomplish this, but taking a moment for yourself can go a long way.

2. Create a Comforting Safe Space

When a child gets upset, it’s like their brain hits the panic button. They’re focused on survival instincts, and not thinking clearly. Before expecting them to listen or follow instructions, offer sensory support. This could mean creating a quiet space, giving them a cozy or weighted blanket, or using calming activities like gentle rocking. When a child is activated and dysregulated, less talking is better! Instead, let your actions and calming presence do the talking.

3. Connect, Connect, Connect!

This can be done by hugging or holding them physically or by just staying present with your child and their big emotions. The goal is to connect with them through your body language and facial expressions. Being responsive, mirroring their feelings calmly, and modeling calming techniques can let them know it’s okay to express themselves. Remaining open and flexible is key!

~ Deedra Everett, Supervisee in Social Work

Looking for more parenting tips? Check out our resources page and get in contact with the Wise Family Wellness team!

Stay Wise,

Dr. Amy F. Parks
Owner of Wise Family Wellness