What is Co-regulation and why does it help your child? Co-regulation is a fancy word for helping your child calm down. Since children have difficulty calming down when frustrated, and can get there in .04 seconds, they usually can’t problem solve. That’s why they need you to help them calm down. I’ve just released a workbook for HSP Kids that will help parents and children identify their specific areas of high sensitivity and create a plan to help them calm down.
In the final section of the HSP workbook, I provide a Troubleshooting Guide for Parents. In this guide, I walk parents through 10 practical steps on how to help their highly sensitive child and their overwhelm. I’ll be expanding on each of the ideas in a series of blog posts. Here are 5 tips on Co-Regulation you can use when your child can’t regulate:
The Brain Hand
As a therapist and parent coach, one of the most valuable things I teach people is about what is happening in their brain when stress happens. Dr. Daniel Siegel created a “Brain Hand Model” which is an easy explanation of how the brain works when triggered. It’s invaluable in understanding what is happening in your brain and your child’s brain. The most important thing to remember is that the calmer amygdala (the part of your brain that is responsible for fight, flight or freeze) will calm the more reactive amygdala. Knowing this can be a game changer when things start to get hard. You can take a look at Dr. Daniel Siegel’s Brain Hand video here or I’ve made my own here.
One of the quickest and best ways to get our brains “back online” is to use deep breathing. Taking a deep breath in through your nose, filling up your belly and then exhaling out through your mouth, letting your chest and shoulders relax. This calms the amygdala enough to allow your senses to signal your brain that there is not any actual danger and provides a good reset. The best part about deep breaths is the more you use it, the better it works! When you’re taking deep breaths in order to remain calm, you don’t have to tell your child to take deep breaths with you (they probably won’t willingly anyway!) but it will signal their nervous system to calm down and begin syncing their breath to yours.
Many children have some kind of sensory input that is soothing to them. For example, one child liked his back and head scratched, while the other needed his feet rubbed or a big bear hug. Physical touch and pressure can be good resets for you and your child. It’s a good idea to talk about what physical touch and pressure feels safe for your child and whether or not this would be helpful when they’re starting to get agitated. Sometimes children do not want to be touched at all and this can escalate a situation quickly. Other times, you’re too agitated to provide it! So it’s good to be able to work this out before the next crisis arises.
Notice what’s happening
Sometimes it’s helpful for children for you to identify what is happening for them. For example, if they struggle with homework night after night, have a discussion with them about why they think this might be happening and work together to problem solve. Be flexible and willing to try a few things until you find the right combination-knowing there might be a few evenings that will require using ALL of the techniques! You can start the discussion by saying, “I noticed you’re having trouble staying focused on your homework every night. What are some things we can do to help make this easier?” Or if they’re struggling in another area you can say, “I noticed you’re having trouble zipping your jacket, let me know if you get stuck.” I like suing the “let me know if you get stuck” phrase because it helps children feel empowered to problem solve first.
Change physical locations
This one might seem like the most confusing but when a crisis is happening, our brains go into survival mode and when we change physical locations it can help signal our brain to come out of survival mode. For example, if you’re standing up, sit down, if you’re in the living room, move to the kitchen, etc. I don’t encourage people to use this strategy without communicating clearly what’s happening, especially if you’re going to leave the room because it can look like avoidance. I do encourage parents to say, “I’m going to go to the kitchen and get a drink of water, and also calm down for a minute but we need to continue talking about this.” Obviously, this technique does not work as well with toddlers and younger but it’s good to keep in mind as children age.
I hope this helps you implement practical ways you can use co-regulation with your child. If you would like more support in parenting your highly sensitive child, please feel free to contact me at 317.496.0456 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re looking for help parenting your child, I offer parent coaching online and more information can be found on our website. If you are looking for help with depression, anxiety, trauma or behavioral concerns, our physical location is in Greenwood, IN, and you can read more about how I can help at my website peacefamilycounseling.