Parenting with co-regulation

Parenting with co-regulation: how to calm your child

You know how when your child gets more and more ramped up, YOU also get more and more agitated? Or maybe the reverse is sometimes true: when you get increasingly stressed over a situation, your child begins to react to this vibe, becoming more upset.

This was me—full-scale hostage in the fit of a lifetime. It might have been Cheezits -related or it may have been that the car that passed the house was blue and it was supposed to be red, Whatever it was, it was BAD—nostrils flared, sweaty temples bad, and that was just me. As my son processed his very strong preschool disappointment emotions at varying degrees of volume, I felt terrible. Panicky and irritated and helpless and annoyed and heartbroken and all the things. And so I did the best I could to try to manage myself. I took a deep breath. Like a really deep breath, letting my chest expand as far as it could and exhaling with an audible release. And it felt good, so I did it again. By the time I was taking my third deep breath, I heard audible breaths next to me and the little body that was ravaged by disappointment began to calm. We both breathed in rhythm and the world got calmer.

And, suddenly, we had co-regulated, which is the scientific term for simultaneously getting your Sh*& together.

Parenting with co-regulation is the key to keeping everyone calm. Co-regulation is when we are able to co-ordinate our feelings, thoughts, and intentions, often by way of non-verbal as well as verbal communication.

It happens between two people when the action of person A (let’s say, you, as the parent) is contingent on, but not controlled by person B (your child). The reverse is also true. In this way, co-regulation is a two-step dance. When co-regulation is utilized, situations can be diffused.

Parenting with co-regulation: How to bring calm to chaos:

By calming yourself, your child can also become calm. 

  1. Cultivate calmness: First, you need to calm down physically. Cultivate physiological calmness with strategies such as breathing exercises (try a 10-second meditation or deep breathing session), utilizing stress balls, or even reading out loud. Anything you know works to bring you down from a highly emotional state is useful. Physical touch, such as a hug, can also be utilized, with permission. Once you’re calm, you need to practice the same process to help the other person calm down, too.
  2. Change the narrative: This involves changing the other person’s thoughts. No, this isn’t a Jedi mind trick (though wouldn’t that be nice?). Once the person has calmed down physiologically, you can guide them to identifying their thoughts, analyzing them, and changing them. (NOT SURE HOW?) This process not only gives your child a better perspective, but you teach them that they have agency and control in their life.
  3. Continue to utilize co-regulation when chaos arises (as it inevitably will!). We are all a product of our own childhoods and the culture of our households growing up, and for many of us, co-regulation will be a new concept, and not always a natural one.  Keep at it!

Understanding the role of SELF-regulation:

Science would say that Emotional self-regulation or emotion regulation is the ability to respond to the ongoing demands of experience with the range of emotions in a manner that is socially tolerable and sufficiently flexible to permit spontaneous reactions as well as the ability to delay spontaneous reactions as needed, but in normal people language. Emotional self-regulation is the ability to respond to the nonsense around you, even if it is escalating, in a way that doesn’t make your feel worse about yourself and doesn’t embarrass you and keeps you from feeling worse and worse.

Your own ability to manage disruptive emotions and impulses not only helps you stay calm (and therefore calm your child), but it’s also a good coping mechanism for the stressful situations in your life that have nothing to do with your parenting or your child. As we know, our emotions and attitudes affect our children (and our partners or spouses) even if they are not the direct cause.

Self Regulation Tools for Parents:

  • Try deep belly breaths.
  • Practice mindfulness daily.
  • Listen to calming music.
  • Use an app like Calm or Headspace.
  • Take a one-minute time-out (if it’s safe to leave your child)
Easy ways to self-regulate as a parent. Parenting with co-regulation and how it works!

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