Occupational Therapy News: Co-Regulation with your Child

Regulation refers to the ability to adjust one’s behaviour and emotional state as a response to change.  Self-regulation is our own ability to manage our own internal states and this is based on the ability to process and perceive the world around us. For example, when you’re upset, you have the ability to calm yourself down and cheer yourself up. When children struggle with self-regulation, they find it difficult to sit still, concentrate, and participate in learning activities.

Co-regulation refers to the phenomenon where a child’s state of regulation is directly influenced by the state of another, that being their primary care giver. Co-regulation is the warm and responsive interactions that provide the support and modelling your child needs to “understand, express, and modulate their thoughts, feelings and behaviours” (Murray et al., 2017, p.14).

Development of self-regulation and co-regulation improves our ability to respond to the appropriate information within our environment; whilst tuning out irrelevant information, have self-control and also provides the ability to form relationships. Some children find it difficult to both self-regulate and co-regulate often due to sensory motor difficulties in either calming or energising their bodies.

As a parent, co-regulation is one of your greatest assets. Through using your own internal states and regulation, you are able to assist your child to feel calm, confident and able to interact well with others at school and at home. When you are calm, settled and focused on fun, your child will feel safe to explore and learn new things.  By labelling your child’s emotion, validating his/her experience, and modelling the correct behaviour and emotional response, you allow for your child to achieve his/her full potential. This also helps build a stronger bond and trusting relationship between you and your child.

Tips for doing co-regulation with your child:

  • Provide, responsive, consistent, and nurturing care.
  • Model your ability to self-regulate for example through using healthy ways to manage strong emotions (anger, frustration, burn out).
  • Create a home environment where your child feels safe to explore and are comforted if they become confused or scared.

Rosanbalm, K.D., & Murray, D.W. (2017). Caregiver Co-regulation Across Development: A Practice Brief. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, US. Department of Health and Human Services.