When your child is experiencing anger, sadness, or another intense emotion, you might not know how best to respond. Even if you’re confident in your approach to parenting, it can be difficult to comfort your child and help them explore these emotions in a productive way. After all, young children don’t know how to self-regulate their emotional expressions yet.

You can teach them in a gentle way by learning how to co-regulate. Co-regulating means learning to manage your own emotional responses to your child’s expressions and then helping them process their feelings. Here are a few tips on co-regulating with your child when they’re dealing with strong emotions.

Focus on Self-Regulation

If your child is upset or frustrated, regulating your own emotions is your first responsibility. It can be difficult to self-regulate when your child is angry, especially if you suspect that they’re on the verge of a tantrum.

But by remaining calm and steady, you can help soothe your child. Take a deep breath and pause for a moment before you respond in order to collect your thoughts.

Don’t Try to “Fix” Their Feelings

It’s important to understand that while effectively co-regulating can help your child calm down, “fixing” your child’s feelings isn’t the main goal. Remember, even if your child is distressed at the moment, they are safe.

As a parent, your instinct is to protect your child, but it’s okay to let them experience these emotions. Allow them to be seen and heard. They may shed some tears, but they will be okay.

Validate Their Emotions

As an adult, you know that the issue your child is upset over will likely be resolved. But for a child who is still learning their way around the world, even a minor problem can seem like a catastrophe.

Instead of minimizing the issue, let your child know that you understand why they’re upset. You can use phrases like, “I can see why that would make you angry.” You could also say, “I know you feel sad, and that’s okay.” Empathizing with your child is an important aspect of co-regulation. They need to know that you view their emotions as valid.

Give Them Space if Necessary

Your child might say that they want time and space to themselves. They might even physically try to leave the room. Depending on how old your child is, it can be appropriate to give them a little space at times like these.

Even if your child does want to stay in their own room to get some privacy, let them know you will be a few feet away when they want to come out and talk. Reassure them you understand why they need their space. Explicitly let them know they can come to you when they feel ready.

Proportionate Response

What if your child is acting out inappropriately? For instance, they might take their anger out on their sibling, make a mess on purpose because they’re feeling stressed, or purposefully say something rude to you or your spouse. In some instances, you might feel that you need to discipline your child for emotional reactions that hurt others accidentally or on purpose.

At times like these, it’s important that the consequences suit their actions. Resist the urge to be too harsh. If your child thinks that opening up to you will automatically result in a tough punishment, you might have difficulty co-regulating with them in the future.

Are you struggling to co-regulate with your child? Working with a therapist can help. Reach out to us today to discuss your options for scheduling your first session.

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