Teachers, parents, coaches, other mentors, and therapists play a pivotal role in co-regulating with their students/children/clients/etcetera. In an era of people experiencing more and more exposure to anxiety and trauma, co-regulation skills can make the difference between thriving and struggling. Younger children need the most help learning self-regulation skills, but many older children and adults go about their lives without the opportunity to learn these skills. Without co- or self-regulation, children and adults alike may experience overwhelming emotions, panic attacks, difficulty focusing, and feeling scattered between so many tasks that nothing gets done. Fortunately, the relational skill of co-regulation can help.
WHAT IS CO-REGULATION?
Co-regulation entails providing a warm and caring response to someone who is feeling dysregulated. It also involves doing, prompting, and reinforcing behaviors like taking deep breaths, calmly discussing feelings, and noticing minor signs of dysregulation before it becomes overwhelming. These are some examples of how self-regulation skills can be taught.
Co-regulation is helpful for everyone. It makes intense emotions tolerable. Ultimately, healthy co-regulation is important because it teaches healthy self-regulation skills which can improve mental and physical health, relationships, school performance, and success at work. Essentially, individuals who manage their feelings and emotions well are more capable of sticking to actions that help them reach their goals. Intense feelings are temporary, get less intense, and don’t take over what that person had planned on doing with their day or life. (If this is something you could use help with, contact us and find out how we can help!)
SOME HELPFUL CO-REGULATION SKILLS
Here are some skills you can practice with your child/student/partner … basically anyone you have a relationship with.
- Notice how you feel as the intensity of an emotion is rising. What differences do you notice from your baseline feeling right now? Is your heart beating faster? Do you feel tense anywhere in your body? Noticing these cues before you feel completely overwhelmed makes it much easier to manage the emotions that are present.
- Take a deep breath in as you slowly count to 4. Let your breath out slowly as you count to 6. Really feel in control of your breaths instead of fighting your feelings and thoughts for a sense of control. Long exhales help soothe your nervous system as it shifts out of the fight-or-flight response.
- Listen without interrupting. Focus on having a caring expression on your face rather than what you want to say next.
- Validation and self-validation. Recognizing and naming emotions in a non-judgemental manner can help others and even yourself feel understood. This alone can begin to calm dysregulation.
- Flex and relax your muscles. This nicely pairs with noticing feelings in your body by giving you a sense of control, intentionally relaxing your body, and often distracts you from the reactions your emotions want you to take long enough to think more clearly.
These regulation skills can teach others how to control their own reactions. You taking responsibility for managing your own thoughts and feelings helps others do the same.
For teachers, parents, or anyone looking for more ideas on how to co-regulate with others, check out this guide which breaks down skills among different age groups. The hyperlinks in the beginning of this post also provide additional information.
WE ARE HERE TO HELP
Want more help with this? Want other help coping with trauma and not sure where to turn next? Good news! I am one of the clinicians at Heartland Therapy Connection and would love to have a FREE consultation with you so you can find out how you may benefit from our services. Contact us today by phone at 816-287-0252, email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or stop by our office at 616 E 63rd Street, Suite 104, KCMO 64110. We believe we are all #betterconnected and look forward to meeting you!