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Co-Regulation: A Connected Way to Manage Big Feelings

Picture it: You’re at the park with your kiddo, he’s having a blast playing with other

kids, and it’s time to go home. You’ve given him a couple of time warnings, 10 minutes left, then 5 minutes. It’s now time to go, and your child begins to melt down. You see the tears coming and hear the cries and whines, “But I don’t wanna goooooo!” In the past, you’ve done everything under the sun to try and get your child to leave: bribery, threatening, coaxing, coddling, none of it works. It’s time to use a new strategy—co-regulation.

What is co-regulation?

Emotional regulation is a skill that we all learn over time, but until we have a firm grasp on that skill, kids rely on trusted adults to help them regulate. In a sense, they borrow their caregivers’ regulation until they are able to do it on their own. Co-regulation is when a caregiver models and helps a child regulate their emotions, calm down, assists in soothing behaviors. Kind of like when you teach your child to ride a bike, you hold on to the back until they can do it on their own.

Why is co-regulation important?

Gosh, wouldn’t it be great if everyone knew how to identify and manage their emotions—kids and adults? Just like any other skill you teach your child, learning to understand how they’re feeling and what to do with those feelings takes instruction and modeling. As you continue to show and help your child learn to regulate their emotions, they will begin to understand how to do it on their own.

How do you co-regulate?

There are a few key steps to co-regulating. Make sure that your emotions are regulated. When you’re upset, it will be impossible to help your child calm down. Take a few deep breaths and prep

are yourself to be a calm support for your child. Create a warm, nurturing interaction with your child, get on their level, look into their eyes, listen carefully to what they are expressing. Reflect and validate the feelings they are expressing, both verbally and non-verbally. Model calming skills and verbalize what you are doing: “I’m going to take a few deep breaths to calm down” or “Let’s count to ten slowly together, 1….2….3….” Finally, offer some physical comfort “Would you like a hug?” or “Can I give you a quick shoulder rub?” Remember to seek permission before physical touch in this situation.

Just like any other skill you teach your child, learning to identify and regulate emotions is a life-long skill that will prove to be essential as they grow up. Before they can do it on their own, they need your support and instruction to master emotional regulation.

Below, there’s a reference handout with reminders on how to co-regulate. Want more support with co-regulating? Schedule a free 15 minute consult call.

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