What Is Co-Regulation and Self-Regulation?
In recent years, the terms “co-regulation” and “self-regulation” have become increasingly popular in the field of psychology. But what do these terms actually mean?
What is co-regulation and self-regulation?
In psychology, co-regulation refers to the collaborative regulation of emotions and behavior between two individuals. This may occur between a parent and child, romantic partners, or friends. Co-regulation has been found to be beneficial for both parties involved, as it can help to reduce stress and promote positive social interactions.
Self-regulation, on the other hand, is the ability to regulate one’s own emotions and behavior. This is a key skill for children to develop in order to be successful in school and in life. Self-regulation requires self-control and impulse control, as well as the ability to adapt to different situations.
How does co-regulation and self-regulation work?
Co-regulation is when two or more people work together to help regulate each other’s emotions. This can be done by talking about how they’re feeling, giving and receiving physical touch, or using other calming techniques like deep breathing. Self-regulation is when someone regulates their own emotions without help from others. This can be done by using the same techniques mentioned above, but it may be more difficult since there’s no one else there to help.
Children and Regulation
There are many benefits of co-regulation and self-regulation for children. Co-regulation helps children to feel safe and secure while they are exploring their world. It also helps them to develop a sense of trust and attachment with their caregiver. Self-regulation skills allow children to control their impulses, manage their emotions, and stay focused on tasks.
There is alot of controversy about regulating emotions for children. For starters, children under the age of 3 can’t regulate their own emotions, they need to co-regulate with someone who is safe and nurturing and dependable. So in order to be able to self-regulate, we must first experience co-regulation. Sadly alot of parents don’t even know how to soothe themselves so may have varied responses to children’s emotions, especially negative responses, ie: “Stop crying, or I’ll give you something to cry about!”
What can also appear to be a co-regulated child can be a child who has just learned to shut down their emotions in order to please their caregivers.
In times of stress
Everyone goes through stressful times which can be outside their window of coping. And it’s times like these that it’s healthy to turn to another person to help calm us down by talking things through, or having a shoulder to cry on. We aren’t islands and it’s normal to want to turn to someone else for support. This is co-regulation. But if you had a childhood where you were expected to not have emotions then the way you cope into adulthood is to rely totally on yourself. And this can be a contributing factor to things like anxiety and depression, ptsd, addiction etc. Men in particular have been taught that they aren’t to have emotions and to not ask for help.
So if we feel like that as adults, when we have the autonomy to talk to friends, partners, counsellors; imagine how it is for a child who needs to calm down but they can only rely on their caregivers around them. And if those caregivers are shaming of the child’s emotions, or a multitude of reasons to not be available to soothe the child and help regulate them then the child never gets to internalise that process and know how to seek out others for help, or in turn to help themselves. They just shut down.
But it’s never too late to learn this process of learning how to co-regulate in a healthy way, and in turn self-regulate.