Co-regulation is helping someone, oftentimes a child, calm down when they feel dysregulated, or out of sorts.  They may be experiencing a tantrum, defying, or shutting down when they need our assistance to find their calm.

We’re good at co-regulating with babies and toddlers but we sometimes forget children are still developing their regulation strategies too.  Some dysregulation is developmentally normal for children and some dysregulation may be due to children not having their needs met or not being taught some basic self-regulation strategies when they were younger.

Here are some steps that may be helpful when co-regulating with a child:

Step 1:  Express Empathy.  Get down at the child’s level and imagine how frustrating the situation must be for them.  Use phrases like, “I can see you’re really upset.”  Or,  “I’m here to help you.”

Step 2:  Allow the child to express him/herself.  Ask questions such as, “Would you be willing to share what happened?”  Show you understand and care by being an active listener.  Validate and paraphrase their concerns. “It’s totally understandable you don’t want to put away the Legos and join us for dinner/morning meeting.  Legos are really fun, aren’t they?”

Step 3:  Assist the child in problem solving.  When the child has calmed down enough to start using the rational part of their brain, it’s time to brainstorm some solutions.  I like to think of co-regulation as coaching; we’re not trying to solve children’s problems for them, but rather, guide them through fixing their problems on their own so they have tools to use in the future.   It’s okay to be a bit flexible here, as long as you can live with the outcome.  The old ‘what I say goes’ tactic is sometimes what gets us into this predicament in the first place.  The conversation may look something like this:

Adult:  So you’re upset about having to put away your Legos and come to dinner/morning meeting.  What do you think we can do about this?

Child:  I want to keep playing.

Adult:  Hmmm.  I would hate for you to miss dinner/the morning meeting game.  I’m wondering if we could think of another time you could play Legos.  Do you have any ideas?

(There may be some back and forth here as you brainstorm together, but ultimately, you want to arrive at something like this.)

Adult:  I like your idea of playing them after dinner/or taking a Lego break in the hallway when our morning meeting is done.


Step 4:  Reinforce the learning.  This is important – don’t skip!  Re-state the plan and ask the child if they could try the same approach next time.

Adult:  What a great plan.  So we’re going to play Legos after dinner.  How do you feel about coming up with a solution like this the next time you’re upset?  Maybe you could talk to me before you feel like yelling/hitting/crying.  How does that sound?

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For more information on co-regulation, especially for children who have experienced trauma, visit the Aces in Education website:  Co-Regulation With Students At-Risk – Calming Together.

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