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Co-Regulation. It’s a new buzzword in parenting circles these days. But what does it mean?
First, it’s important to understand that emotional regulation cannot take place without an inner voice. Adults have their reactionary, automatic, lizard brain self. But we also have an inner-voice and can talk to ourselves. We can tell ourselves to calm down. We can tell ourselves to regulate our breathing. When we are triggered into lower brain states and are struggling to manage our anger, or our frustration, we have the capacity to employ skills of inner regulation.
Children lack that inner voice. Developmentally their brains just have not yet developed it. That inner voice comes with maturity and development, just like other cognitive skills, such as concrete thinking leads to abstract thinking. And because children lack an inner voice they cannot self-regulate when they are young. They need to be taught, yes. But beyond modeling and overt teaching, they need to be guided through the process. You need to become not just their parent, but their coach.
That’s what experts mean by co-regulation. Some emotions are just too big for a child’s nervous system to process. Big feelings lead to big tantrums, misbehavior, etc. We know that ALL behavior is COMMUNICATION. So if your child is losing it, it doesn’t mean that they are misbehaving. It means they are communicating that they need help regulating their big emotions.
So how do we do it? We become their emotion processing COACH.
First, get your own feelings under control. If your child’s actions are pushing your own buttons, you have to first calm yourself. Engage that S.T.A.R. breathing you’ve learned about in our classes. You cannot help a child level up the brain states without doing it yourself first.
Second, notice their feelings. Validate their feelings. Label their feelings. Most children lack the ability to express in words what is wrong. They don’t know. You can give them this voice.
Second, connect. Get down on their level so you can make non-threatening eye contact with them. Offer some gentle touch. Tell them that when they are ready you will be there to help them.
Some kids will fall into your arms immediately needing physical touch and assurance. Other kids need time and space before they will be able and willing to connect. So you just wait and let them know you’ll be there when they’re ready.
It’s all about empathy and connection. Regulate yourself to co-regulate your child, so they can learn the skills of self-regulation. When we try to connect with our children instead of control our children, their behavior and your relationship with them will improve.