You realize it is time to leave the house for an appointment you have and your child is playing with their favorite toy in the living room. You go in there and say, “It’s time to go!” Your child screams, “No!” and starts throwing their toys out of the toy box. “We have to go, now!” you say, but your child starts yelling louder and attempts to kick you. You have to leave now or you’ll be late, you wish your child would just calm down and go to the car, but there is no end to this meltdown in sight.
Did you know there is a reason why this situation sounds all too familiar for most people? There is research to suggest that your ability to regulate your own emotions can contribute to the emotional regulation of those around you. This concept is called co-regulation. Co-regulation is the ability to regulate emotions and behaviors to soothe and manage stressing internal sensory input or external situations, with support and direction of a connecting individual. This concept is often forgotten by parents, teachers, and therapists, but remains one of the greatest tools to use with kids. When adults stay calm, children are able to become calm. When children are calm, they are better able to listen and problem solve.
So how do you co-regulate in the moment? There are many different strategies you can use!
Use less words – saying less when a child is experiencing a big emotion can be regulating by reducing the amount of auditory input they are exposed to.
Speak softly and slowly – using a lower tone of voice and speaking slowly is more regulating for the child when they are experiencing a big emotion.
Model the behavior you want to see – modeling the behavior helps the child to see what actions they should be taking to help regulate themselves when they are experiencing a big emotion. For example, modeling deep breathing can remind the child to use their strategies in the moment.
Use visuals to suggest supports – using visuals to provide suggestions for supports during big emotions helps to reduce the amount of auditory input a child needs to process. Setting a water bottle next to them, get a familiar sensory toy out, etc., can be regulating and remind the child to use their supports.
Dim the lights – if you are able to dim the lights, this can help to reduce overstimulating visual sensory input and help regulate the child during a big emotion.
Give them space – while maintaining an adequate space for safety, give the child space to regulate when experiencing a big emotion.
In order to develop self-regulation skills, children first need to develop co-regulation skills. These strategies are useful for parents, teachers, and therapists to facilitate co-regulation within any environment to support self-regulation. Eventually, the goal is self-regulation which you can support through the use of many different strategies.
Teach your child about their emotions – teaching a child to identify their emotions and notice them is one of the first steps to promoting self-regulation skills.
Break activities into smaller parts – by breaking activities down you can help your child to manage stressful situations, and in turn gain self-regulation skills.
Encourage self-reflection – big emotions are inevitable, but if you can teach your child to reflect after having a big emotion, they can develop the skills to identify strategies they can use next time they feel that way.
If your child is experiencing a lot of difficulty with regulation, occupational therapy can help! To learn more about occupational therapy visit https://www.citherapies.com/our-services/occupational-therapy/
Bath, H.I. (2008). Calming together: The pathway to self-control. Reclaiming Children and Youth, 16, 4. pp. 44-46.