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An Adeona Family Podcast: An Early Childhood Journey

Episode 10: The Importance of Co-Regulation in Caregiving

On this episode of the Adeona Family Podcast: An Early Childhood Journey, we discuss the need for co-regulation with significant care-givers in the lives of children and how this helps children build the vital skills necessary in order to self regulate.

We offer practical advice on what co-regulation can look like and examine the importance of entering into interactions with your child in a calm and non-reactive manner.

What is Co-Regulation?

Co-regulation is the process by which people are able to adjust themselves when interacting with another, so they can maintain a regulated state. These responsive interactions provide the support and modeling children need to understand, express, and modulate their thoughts, feelings and behaviours.

Thank You

We’d love to hear from you! If you have any feedback, suggestions or questions about anything we discussed today, please feel free to reach out –

Our Early Childhood Education Centres

Coorparoo | Mitchelton | Noosaville | Mackay


Podcast Transcription

Zoe (00:11):
Welcome to an early childhood journey with Zoe and Tracy, thank you for joining us once again. I’d like to start today by acknowledging the land that Tracy and I are meeting on today, which is the land of the Yuggera and Turrbal people in the greater Brisbane region. So anyone who interacts with children will know that early childhood is a big time of growth and change. And part of that growth is emotional growth. And children will feel emotions on scales, probably as big as teenagers do in that early age group. And so as adults, working with children or being around children in that age group, we do have a really big role to play in helping them to navigate and understand those emotions. So today, Tracy, and I thought we would discuss what it means to engage in Co-regulation with children. So Tracy, I’ll hand over to you to start with. What exactly is CO regulation?

Tracy (01:05):
Sure. So co regulation can be defined as the warm and responsive interactions that we provide the support coaching and modelling that children need to understand, express and modulate their emotions, thoughts, feelings, and behaviours essentially. So we want to co regulate, children need us to co regulate with them, in order for them to be able to then self regulate. So it’s one of it’s a very important step, moving children to that self regulation, essentially, we are naturally practicing co regulation from the moment babies are born, infants. So when a baby cries, and we go over and pick them up and soothe them, and rock them and respond to their needs, feed them if they need feeding, changing, that is participating in co-regulation. We’re there to, you know, the younger the child is the less able to self regulate. So they depend on us a lot for co-regulation that that point. And then hopefully, as they grow and develop and their brain wires, through co regulation, that brain will wire itself to be able to self regulate more easily. That is what the aim of co regulation is. And it’s why being responsive and really trying to have those warm interactions in the first birth to three – birth to five years life are really, really important, because that’s when, as we’ve discussed in previous podcasts, the wiring is laid down. But I guess with co-regulation that brings the focus back to the caregiver, be that the parent, early childhood centre staff, grandparents, anyone who’s spending a large portion of their time with the child, because if we’re not regulated, then the child is not going to lay down those neuro pathways in the child for them to be able to regulate themselves later on in life.

Zoe (03:04):
And when children are little, it’s very easy to do co regulation, we find it much easier to navigate those emotions because they are much smaller emotions. And as children get older, they become bigger and more complex. So in our past podcasts, we have spoken a lot about big emotions in children and how they happen and why they happen. So I guess the idea behind this was a little bit to flip it towards adults as well. So because that’s the Co in co-regulation. So what does an adult need to do to enter into that co-regulation mindset to work with a child who is feeling big emotions that we have to help them through?

Tracy (03:50):
Sure. Probably the first thing I’d like to mention, though, is that as the behaviour also the emotions become more complex, we need to just take a step back and make sure that we’re not taking any expression of that emotion or behaviour personally. It’s not a reflection of us as people, it’s not a reflection of our parenting. It’s not a reflection, it’s just that child needs to express themselves at that moment. It’s not because they hate you, or anything like that. It’s not because they want to drive you up the wall. It’s not personal. And we really, I think that’s probably the first mantra to have in your head is that it’s not personal, it’s not personal. Obviously, the behaviours become more complex. Now there is probably some of this emotional testing is going to be an element of boundary testing, which we have covered in our other podcast. But what they still need from us is the calm, consistent response in order for them to be able to self regulate, and move away from that sort of behaviour.

Zoe (04:49):
I think one of the tricky things too is it seems to coincide, the more complex emotional behaviours tend to coincide with our life becoming more busy after going through baby time as well. So our lives are becoming busier, and the children are taken along on that ride quite often and their lives become busier because they have little bits and pieces now in life that start to happen, some into childcare, some children might start extracurricular activities, you tend to be out in the world, a lot more.

Tracy (05:20):
Siblings arrive. siblings around two to three age group age gap that a lot of families have.

Zoe (05:26):
Yeah, so sometimes as adults, we can become a little bit time poor as well. So I think there’s a clash of a whole bunch of contexts that happen around that as well. And so to have a pre-emptive idea of co-regulation, before you head into that is probably a good skill set to have in your pocket.

Tracy (05:46):
Yep. Yeah, that’s right. And it’s also an understanding that whatever behaviour, your child from birth to five is displaying, there’s no malice behind it, there’s no intention to hurt you or your feelings. It’s all boundary testing, it’s all developmentally normal, and there’s no bad intent behind it. So part of co-regulation is understanding that going into any emotional situation with a child, and I guess I just want to take the moment to say it’s not just – co regulation isn’t just for what we would, you know, for when children are upset or angry or sad, you know, I personally have a son who needs some co regulation when he’s extremely excited and joyful. And that’s when we start to need to be able to go yes, we have super excited, but we just need to take a deep breath, and chill out a little bit. So it’s, it’s for a whole range of emotions that we all experience. So the ways that we can do this is through role modelling, providing a safe space for children to feel their emotions, so we don’t want to get send the message, like we’ve said, in many, but it’s really important, but we will keep saying it, is that we want them to be able to feel sad, quite often when a child does have what we would call a meltdown, or when they, you know, enact some behaviour, that then means that they can have a release of their emotion, they need that and we need to let them have that they need to learn how to move through that emotion without us putting any negative connotations on it. Doesn’t mean we have to accept behaviour that isn’t okay, that’s not appropriate. But we need to ride it through with the emotion and empathize and let them know what that feels like in their body, and then work with them on ways that they can then regulate themselves, which we can only do if we ourselves are calm and neutral. And so and staying present in the moment, which so sometimes it’s really, really hard, especially if your natural reaction, the way that your brain has been wired is to withdraw. It’s really, really hard to be staying calm and present, especially if the emotion being displayed is like an extended over an extended time, it can, you know, it’s exhausting it’s wearing. And it can be really difficult to remain patient and connected.

Zoe (08:04):
Yeah, because just as a back reminder, you know, those big emotions can be quite scary for children. And so that’s why it’s important to remain present with the child and not kind of just wander off and leave them be.

Tracy (08:14):
Yeah. And I guess coming into it, too, we’ve all been in the situation where you’ve walked into work one day, and there’s a co worker, and they’re in a bad mood. And then by the end of their day, their bad mood, you know, especially if it’s a manager or someone is infectious. And the whole team’s in the bad mood by the end of the day, you know, our children are very sensitive, attuned and aware of our emotions, doesn’t mean we can’t have them doesn’t mean we can’t feel angry. But I guess being aware that if we go into be with a child, and we’re already feeling anxious or escalated ourselves, we’re only going to escalate that situation, we have no hope of de escalating and helping that child through that. So we really need to be mindful going into deal with any emotion, if we, if we can and looking sometimes it might be more appropriate to send in somebody else to deal with that if possible. Because you just might not be in the headspace to do that at that time. The other thing is that we need to go into it aware of where our emotional and physical needs are. So if you need to go get a drink of water or go to the bathroom, or, you know, acknowledge that you are actually really tired today, or that you know, you have other things going on, financial stress, relationship stress, all of that sort of thing. Just be aware of it. And be aware that none of that, maybe you might have to give yourself a bit of a mantra that that’s not the child’s fault. And just take a few deep breaths before walking into to deal with it. Give yourself time. That’s, you know, is what we teach the kids think before you speak, you know, sometimes we need to do that ourselves.

Zoe (09:49):
Yeah, that that mindfulness that we’re referring to is just that real self awareness of where you are, how you’re feeling and how capable you are going to be dealing with that situation.

Tracy (09:59):
Yeah, So I guess some physical things that we can do to support co regulation is that, you know, being responsive to need. So going in, also, I guess, being aware of what the child’s needs might be, maybe they’re tired, maybe they’re hungry, maybe they haven’t had enough drink today, maybe they’ve come back from being on holiday, things like that. So put that in the forefront of your mind that, you know, this isn’t intentional, they’re having a hard time dealing with this. Have they had all their basic needs met? Because that’s part of co-regulation. When we go into a situation, if you can imagine yourself, once again, imagine that you’re sitting at your desk at work, and your boss is coming in and having a bit of a tirade, telling you to get it together, standing over you at your desk, as opposed to pulling over a chair sitting on your level and talking it through. So I would recommend sitting or getting low with your child, and they might be standing but that’s okay to sit down. It sets off things in your own nervous system to help you relax, as opposed to when you’re standing up and quite tense, sit down, it helps you relax. And it also helps the child relax because when you’re on their level is not not that you are a threat, but it’s subconsciously perceived as less of a threat.

Zoe (11:13):
Making eye contact, I think is always extremely important. And sometimes it’s holding that gaze even for a little while will help a child to self regulate.

Tracy (11:21):
Yeah, and sometimes if your child is extremely escalated, that’s not the time to try and engage in conversation, it is just sitting and looking at them with a really open posture, sort of indicating that you are there when they need you. And then when you can see that they’re starting to come down or crash from that emotional outburst. There may be then you can start to engage in some of these other steps. Taking a few deep breaths, you know, five really deep, slow breaths is a really great way of just centring yourself, you know, another mindfulness technique is, you know, look around the room, What’s five things you can see what’s four things you can feel, I can’t remember them all? What’s three things you can hear, like using all your senses. Taste could be a bit tricky. But using your senses, just to put yourself back in that moment. Sportscasting, and I know that we’ve touched on this on another podcast as well, is also another really useful tool, because you’re not going to say that you’re going to do things out of anger or frustration. As soon as you say, you catch yourself going, Oh, I don’t, I don’t mean that. So if you’re just there, just observing what’s happening, you know, Zoe, I can see you’re really angry, you want to throw the toy, you know, and you might have to say that I’m not gonna let you throw the toy or whatever, here I have a pillow to hit instead, and just really observe and see what’s happening. Don’t put too much in there, because that can just get annoying for everybody involved. But it might just help you, before you act, speak what you’re going to do so that it you know, sort of has to go through different pathways in your brain, then. So that you can check that it is a rational and calm action. Changing perspectives, is also an important strategy. So it’s trying to see it from the child’s point of view. So once again, it’s been, oh they had a really big weekend at grandma’s, they’re probably tired, they’ve come home and we’ve been a bit out of routine, I can see that today’s probably been a bit hard, and that they’ve probably had a lot of changes, and that this outburst really isn’t about the pink cup that they wanted for lunch, but rather about just needing to release all this tension that they’ve had over the weekend. By putting it into that frame of mind, in your mind, it means that you can empathize a bit more from taking, you know all the context clues that you’ve got there, as opposed to just going oh my god, why is this kid throwing a tantrum over a red cup. That can help. And then also setting our mindset. So if you’re really really struggling to, you know, understand why the red cup has caused such a angry outburst. You know, take the moment and think about something that’s happened that day that you really loved that child doing, or something that you’re really looking forward to doing with that child later on the day or next week, or just trying to I guess, put some positive thoughts and emotion and love chemicals in your brain to calm your nervous system so that you can be there to support them.

Zoe (14:31):
Excellent. As much as you know, we want to be present and amazing in all these situations. You know, chances are there’s going to be times that because the child is having big emotions because they’ve had a huge weekend you have as well. And you won’t cope. What do we do in that situation, Tracy?

Tracy (14:50):
In that situation we need to role model to our children about saying to them at the moment, I can’t respond the way I want to respond. I’m going to go make a cup of tea, and I’m going to come back and talk to you in a minute. Obviously, if your child is younger, and you can’t walk out of the room to make a cup of tea for whatever reason, it may be calling on other people in the household to come and support, I know that that’s not always an option as well. So it is about just sitting there and saying, I just need to take three, five deep breaths, and then I can I can be with you, I can respond to you. It’s really just talking out loud your strategies that you’re using to regulate yourself, you know, going in locking yourself in the cupboard for half an hour probably isn’t productive for anybody. But saying, I just need two minutes just to put these ideas in, you know, there’s put their perspective and get my mindset and take some deep breaths, and then I can come back and be with you is fine, because that’s a better outcome for everybody. Still, some of the time, you’re going to lose it, you just are, we’re human, we’re absolutely human. And sometimes as adults, we are pushed to the point where we need a release. And sometimes that is directed at our children and our spouses, our co workers, the people closest to us, our friends. And I guess what it’s really important then is to when everybody is calm, everybody’s okay, everyone’s had a moment to themselves, is to go back and repair that relationship, to go back and acknowledge that, you know, you wouldn’t like it if somebody yelled at you. And so you were really sorry for yelling at them. Try not to blame them for your emotions, because they’re not responsible for how you reacted, that was all you, you know, you can say I felt really frustrated and I that was the most appropriate, that was the way that I could deal with my emotions at that time, I’m going to try and do this next time. It’s a really good role model. Because, you know, no matter how old your children are, and then I think when they enter as teenagers, they have, once again, those emotional outbursts that they don’t quite understand where it’s coming from or can control. So I think as long as we’re showing an awareness and going back and repairing that relationship and letting them know that we’re not perfect, and that I think that’s really, really important.

Zoe (17:05):
Yeah, it’s almost like that idea that emotional learning is a lifelong learning.

Tracy (17:09):
Absolutely. Yeah. And you know, when we make that explicit, we then giving them permission when they’re older to make mistakes, and then be able to come back and repair that, you know, because when they are teenagers, they are going to say something that they may later regret or something that’s harsh or yelled at, but we’re showing them well, you know, we are here and we can apologize to you. And when they’re teenagers, they’re going to come and apologize to you and you’re going to be – I love you anyway, you know, and that’s probably the other thing is, you know, in those moments going, even when you’re angry, I still really love you. You know, I don’t love the behaviour. But I really love you. How you are everything you are, the emotions you’re feeling, that is okay. I love you.

Zoe (17:48):
Yeah, that unconditional love is a really powerful affirmation for anyone.

Tracy (17:53):
Yeah absolutely. Absolutely. And, you know, I just know my own personal experience that has how with my own children is that they need that time, where I just sit there and then eventually they’ll sort of come crawl over into my lap and our first thing will be are you okay, I love you, a few kisses, and then can you tell me what happened? Or can you you know, let’s talk through this. I guess probably one thing I would like to say, when I sort of went just jumping back to when we were saying about how when babies are younger, that co-regulation comes quite naturally and through that, you know, if it is something that you were struggling with, be it through postpartum depression, or things like that, that can be quite hard, please reach out for help. Please don’t be ashamed of any of that sort of thing, too. We’ll attach some notes of places that you can reach out for help. Because, you know, when we have our own mental health issues going on, it can make it really, really hard for us to be emotionally available for our children. And it’s nothing to be ashamed of, we just need to acknowledge that and try and seek the help that we can.

Zoe (18:57):
Absolutely. And in our next podcast, we’re actually going to be touching a little bit more on self care for adults. Because, as we’ve just mentioned, it is really important.

Tracy (19:06):
Absolutely. Probably just one thing I’d like to say to wrap up about our co-regulation is that it is time intensive, is probably the most important thing in it in terms of time that it takes to sit with a child who may feel their emotion for an hour, you know, which is really, really hard. And we may need to step out for periods of that to have a break, who then come back in. And also that as Zoey has pointed out on many podcasts that the social emotional learning is not linear. So while the aim with co regulation is that they will be able to self regulate more and more and more and these outbursts or those displays of big emotions will become shorter and less. There’s going to be weeks where you’ll be like oh my God, what’s happening? We’ve gone back, you know, to where we were when they were two or things like that, but it’s just about riding it out and giving everybody the time and space they need do that.

Zoe (18:57):
Thank you for that Tracy, and we hope you have a great day.