What is Co-Regulation and Why is it So Important?

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Self-regulation is such a buzz word lately, but what about CO-regulation? Arguably, it's the first step to actually teaching self-regulation. If you haven't been co-regulating with your students and you're finding that they struggle to employ self-regulation strategies, this might be the missing piece!

So what's self regulation?

Self-regulation is the "conscious control of  thoughts, feelings, and behaviors" (McClellan and Tominey, 2014). I mean, that's a LOT to ask of kids, especially those who have experienced childhood trauma which has disrupted their brain pathways, and/or have diagnosed disabilities. As an adult who did not experience childhood trauma and is neurotypical, I struggle with self-regulation. It's important to remember that it's a skill we're constantly developing, and that it's tricky.

So when we hope children will begin to self-regulate, we often want them to independently ask for a break where they'll start using appropriate coping skills like deep breathing, stretches, coloring, or journaling. We teach them when they're at their baseline, they can exhibit the skills when they're calm, but when things get real, they often can't reach for the skills they've been practicing, and they continue to escalate. What now?!

Insert co-regulation

Co-regulation is modeling and guiding your students to be in "conscious control of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors". So - employing those coping skills WITH them at first, keeping a calm demeanor (so challenging but SO important), deep breathing, and using empathetic language. You're assuring safety, your modeling to the child what a safe and calm body looks like, and you're essentially regulating them with your presence.

An example of this would be walking with the child to the calm corner and starting some deep breathing. Beginning to trace your finger across the "figure 8 racetrack" poster on the wall, or use simple "eye-spy" color books. Pulling out a coloring book and some crayons to color alongside the child.

I know you may be thinking..."I don't have time to do that!" Well, my question is, do you have time for a major meltdown in your classroom that could potentially become dangerous or need to result in the child needing to leave the classroom? Probably not.

Once a child has experience (I mean, many, many times of this type of routine occurring - not just once!) they will begin to trust the process. They'll begin pulling out that coloring book independently, or walk over to the calm corner when they begin to feel agitated.

Co-regulation is important because it's one of the first steps to self-regulation. 

A book I have found super helpful in understanding self regulation is "Self Reg" by Dr. Stuart Shanker. The affiliate link for it is below!

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