I feel like emotional regulation is a pretty popular term these days. But what exactly is it?
Well if we google the word regulation, you’ll find a bunch of hits for legislation, which implies control. Which makes me think I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the term “emotional regulation”. After all, our emotions serve a process, they help us to identify things we don’t like in our environment and things we enjoy. Our emotions inform us of our world, a road map to the things that make us feel safe. In fact, trying to control our emotions by avoiding situations can actually bring us more trouble than good.
For the rest of this blog post, when I’m talking ‘regulation’, I’m talking about the way we work with our thoughts and emotions to allows us to do the things we want or need to do.
Have a minute to think for yourself… imagine a really dodgy of a day. You run late to work, you might be criticised, you drop your favourite mug and it breaks, you get in stuck in traffic on the way home. What are some of the things you might have done to help regulate yourself? For a lot of people, one of those things would have been through connecting. They might call a friend, de-brief with a colleague, a long hug from a partner or even just that little voice from a loved one that whispers inside of us, “it’s going to be ok”. The truth is, it is through other people that a lot of us will calm ourselves when things get tough, and our little people are no different. In fact, when we are talking about kids, I think it’s really important that we shift the focus towards co-regulation
Co-regulation is a process that occurs between two people that creates the foundation for attachment and safety. It is through our connection that we learn to self-regulate and occurs across the lifespan.
So what might that look like?
Co-regulation can be provided in three different ways:
Connection through a warm relationship – we provide unconditional love and acceptance. This doesn’t mean we don’t provide teaching about behaviours and thought patterns, but it does mean we accept different emotions. Afterall, think of your dodgy day, I bet you felt at least one strong emotion!
Providing support in the environment – we ensure that there are safe outlets for emotions. As an adult we can choose to walk away to cool ourselves down, we can choose to pace ourselves knowing how to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes our kids need space to calm down as well.
Helping to develop self-regulation skills – we model self-soothing methods. We demonstrate taking a deep breath, looking at pictures that make us smile, taking the time to look up and admire the clouds, reframing the negative into positives. We can teach our children these strategies too.
So next time we think, “I want my child to control their emotions”, consider instead thinking, what does my child need to understand and process their emotions in ways which are safe and healthy?
Even adults have big emotions.