What is co-regulation?
“The way in which one person’s nervous system sensitively interacts with another person’s nervous system in a way that facilitates greater emotional balance and physical health.”¹ Simply put, when you comfort your distressed child, there is a physiological connection between your nervous system and theirs which allows the child to be calmed. Your physical presence and calm emotional state are enough to co-regulate! This is a responsive parent’s secret weapon!
“Sensitive, reliable responses by the caregiver, over time, indicate to the infant that emotional distress is manageable, either with the help of a caregiver, or by strategies developed during past interactions with a caregiver. The strongest theoretical and empirical support for this phenomenon comes from research on attachment theory. Attachment has even been explicitly defined as "the dyadic regulation of emotion". The basic premise is that early biological and behavioural co-regulation from the caregiver facilitates the child's development of secure attachment which then promotes self-regulation.”²
“The most common form of “self-soothing” in infancy is to seek out a caregiver, for the act of searching for help is a form of emotion regulation (really!). After all, us adults when we are overwhelmed also seek comfort in other individuals. Importantly, even in the infants that utilize other forms of self-soothing, none of them use it exclusively. All of them also use co-regulation, and use it far more frequently than any type of self-soothing.”³
2 important things to know about co-regulation:
1) You need to make sure you are in a place of calm before attempting to co-regulate with your child who is in distress. If you are anxious, frustrated or in distress, they will sense that. Make sure you give off calm, calm vibes. This is crucial at bedtime!
2) Co-regulation does not make your child dependent on you forever! It supports your child’s emotional well-being in the early years and models emotional regulation and promotes self-regulation as they get older!
¹Schwartz, Dr. Arielle. Connection and Co-regulation in Psychotherapy. https://drarielleschwartz.com/connection-co-regulation-psychotherapy-dr-arielle-schwartz/#.XhZ34RdKifV. November 2018
²Wikipedia. Co-regulation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Co-regulation. January 2020.
³Cassels, Dr. Tracy. Evolutionary Parenting. Distress, Self-soothing and Extinction Sleep Training. http://evolutionaryparenting.com/distress-self-soothing-and-extinction-sleep-training/January 2015.