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Co-Regulation: We All Need It
May 18, 2023
Trust children. Nothing could be more simple, or more difficult. Difficult because to trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves, and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.
-John Holt, 1923-1985, Author and Educator

It’s painful to listen to the opening of That Early Childhood Nerd’s latest podcast, “Co-regulation vs. Compliance.” Host Heather Bernt-Santy recounts a circle time scene in which a child in obvious distress is told repeatedly to stay in her chair and “Do the weather! …Do the weather! …Do the weather!”

Podcast guest Ana McRae acknowledges, “As an adult human in relationship with children who challenge us, the desire for power and control is something we’ve all felt… If you have that instinct to really hold that boundary with a child, just take pause, because we know we don’t do our best learning when we’re super stressed and somebody’s breathing down our necks.”

Later in the podcast, McRae shares her thoughts on co-regulation: “The way an adult approaches a distressed child has an impact on that child’s ability to learn to regulate… Children are more likely to be able to soothe if they have someone who is calm, supportive, and validating. If you think about it, who do you call at the end of a really stressful workday? Do you call someone who says, ‘Oh, yeah, sounds like you should have…’ Or who’s going to yell at you or tell you to get it together? …When a child is distressed, they need the same things we do as adults, which is someone to validate the experience, someone to be in it with us, but not get lost with us, [who acknowledges], ‘This is really hard, what can we do, what do you need?’ I think about co-regulation as those features of a relationship that allow you to self soothe and also soothe with the comfort of a supportive partner.”

Bernt-Santy later responds, “Honestly the adult’s brain is engaged in the wrong spot in that moment, too… Co regulation isn't always just for the child sometimes it's for both of us to get back into a spot where we can actually move forward.”


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