As caregivers, we want to support our kids as they learn how to self-regulate. We work to provide an environment and relationship that gives them the ability to effectively manage their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors so they can appropriately respond rather than just react to big emotions and stressful situations. The first step in self-regulation is co-regulation. How do we provide that?
1. Stay Present
To co-regulate with kids, you have to be fully present. It’s impossible to provide the connection kids need during those big emotions and stressful situations if your attention isn’t with them. This is hard to do when other kids and the responsibilities of everyday life pull our attention in a million different directions. The good news is being present doesn’t require a long commitment. Stopping what you’re doing and giving your full attention for as little as 30 seconds or a minute can make a difference. When the situation requires a longer connection, stopping to promise your time and attention in the near future can help. Of course, it’s essential to follow through on that promise.
2. Align What You Say and How You Say It
The tone of your voice, your facial expressions, and your body language can help assure, support, and calm children in stressful situations. Your non-verbal message should align with your verbal one (e.g. “It’s OK”, “I’m here to support you”). Infants and children can sense when what you’re saying doesn’t align with how you really feel.
Co-regulation takes two. It’s a back and forth between you and the child. It requires that you listen to the direct or indirect message the child is providing, that you respond in an attuned and responsive way, and that you give the child time to process your response. This engagement is what helps children internalize and learn to use the strategies of self-regulation.
A child’s ability to self-regulate begins with co-regulate. Perfection isn’t required, just a consistent, predictable relationship with an attuned, responsive adult.