Those heated moments. The kids are screaming. You want to scream too. Maybe it’s the grocery store, or Grandma’s house with family eyes watching. These are some of the hardest moments of parenting.
When our kids are struggling, it’s easy for us to reach into our “punishment pocket” and threaten to take TV away forever. Or maybe we completely shut down and have to get away. Or maybe we get so flooded with stress hormones ourselves that we scream and yell. Maybe we get so overwhelmed we give in to whatever they want in the moment.
Co-regulation is the process by which a child’s developing nervous system is supported and regulated by a more mature and regulated caregiver, often a parent.
To get our kids to calm down, we can co-regulate. This means we, as parents, influence their emotional state. It involves the parent helping their child to regulate their emotions and manage stress or arousal levels.
Co-regulation is particularly crucial during early childhood when children are learning to regulate their emotions and build a foundation for future self-regulation. As children grow, they gradually internalize the skills learned through co-regulation, becoming more capable of managing their emotions independently.
Here are a few ideas for co-regulation strategies to help kids calm:
Whisper: Using a calm, safe voice helps kids feel safe and calm.
Pause: Stop what’s happening to focus on the child and their need
Calm: Children often take cues from their parents, so maintaining a sense of calm helps regulate their emotions.
Move: Move to a new room or get some exercise.
Listen: Pay full attention when your child is expressing their emotions. Reflect on what they’re saying to show understanding and validation. (Read more on Tips for Listening Well here).
Empathy: Acknowledge and validate your child’s feelings, even if you don’t agree with their perspective. Express empathy to help them feel understood and supported. (Read more on Empathy, What is it?)
Touch: Physical touch, such as a hug or gentle pat on the back, can provide comfort and a sense of security. Pay attention to your child’s cues and respect their preferences for physical contact. (Read the Importance of Physical Touch here.)
Breathe: Breathe deeply alongside your child. Teach deep breathing exercises.
Create a safe environment: This can mean creating a safe space in the house for kids to calm down, or simply creating an overall environment of safety where they feel safe to express their needs.
Give choices: Kids need control in their lives and small choices give them this opportunity. Ensure the choices are within limits.
Problem-solving: Openly talk about ways to feel better and how to overcome challenges. (Read more on Teaching Kids Problem-Solving here.)
Play: Sometimes in the hard moments, it helps to be playful. Be silly, make your kids laugh. Sometimes this is the best way to diffuse a difficult situation.
Connect: These hard moments can bring us closer together. Our support in these moments show our kids we are there for them when they need it most. (Read more on Connection Based Parenting here.)
Be sure to recognize what your child is actually capable of. Sometimes we have to alter our expectations of our kids if they are not yet capable. As we co-regulate with our kids, they will learn how to regulate themselves.
By: Emily Scott, PhD
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