You may have heard the term “self-regulation” before in reference to managing emotional reactions and remaining calm even in the midst of chaos. Self-regulation involves acknowledging and handling emotional reactions in a healthy way. It’s all about finding a sense of balance within your internal and external systems.

However, co-regulation is equally important, yet often does not receive as much attention as a concept. For young children under the age of three, self-regulation must be taught through co-regulation. This is because they do not have the brain functions necessary for self-regulation yet.

Learning to self-regulate with the help of a caregiver is a key aspect of healthy child development. Here’s how self-regulation and co-regulation differ.

Acknowledge and Identify the Reaction

For an adult who can self-regulate on their own, the first step involves simply acknowledging and identifying the emotional reaction they are having. Giving yourself permission to feel and name a particular emotion can be powerful.

When you’re a caregiver, you may need to help a child identify when they’re reacting emotionally. If they’re old enough, you can encourage them to think about what they’re feeling so that they can identify the emotion.

Understand the Need

Every emotion speaks to an unfulfilled need. For adults, self-regulation means taking the time to understand the roots of their emotions. What needs do they have, and what would they have to do in order to meet those needs?

For caregivers, helping children understand their own needs is an essential part of co-regulation. Sometimes, simply asking a child why they feel sad or angry can open up a conversation about their needs. Chances are, they will be quite honest.

Fulfill the Need

Successful self-regulation also involves fulfilling your needs. This might mean taking a nap if you’re exhausted, telling someone that you can’t commit to a particular activity when your schedule is already packed, or stepping away from social media when you feel stressed.

When you’re a caregiver, you’ll need to help your children fulfill their needs. For instance, you may need to let them have some quiet time after an exhausting day of family events, give them a comfort object if they’re feeling uneasy, or put them to bed early if they’re tired.

Manage Emotions

Ultimately, effectively managing your emotions is one of the goals of self-regulation. This could involve being patient and charitable during heated conversations, taking deep breaths to calm yourself down when you’re overwhelmed, or privately telling someone how you feel in order to get your feelings off your chest.

Of course, it takes time for young children to learn how to manage their emotions. It’s easy for caregivers to become frustrated with this component of co-regulation. Thankfully, it’s a process that will become easier and easier as children get older.

As a caregiver, it’s your job to aid them with this task as part of co-regulation so that they can manage their emotions on their own in the future.

Stay Calm During Stressful Times

Self-regulation can allow you to stay calm even when everything around you feels tumultuous. Even as an adult, this can be a tough practice to master. For children, finding a sense of calm when life gets complicated can be practically impossible. For very young children, it will be years before they can adopt this mindset.

You can help your child remain calm in times of stress so that eventually, they will learn to do this independently.

Are you struggling with self-regulation or co-regulation as a caregiver? Therapy can help. Reach out to us today to discuss your options for scheduling your first session.

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