Co-Regulation During a MeltdownSep 27, 2023
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Whether you call it a tantrum, meltdown or big feeling cycle, I think we can agree that these moments are overwhelming and stressful (for you and your kid). On today’s episode, we’re talking about what to do during a meltdown and the steps to co-regulation, which allows you to calm yourself and your kid at the same time.
If you're like most parents, you've had moments when your kid hits their sibling, they won't do their homework, they constantly ask for more screentime and won’t get off their device. Or you say “no” and it triggers a meltdown.
These moments can feel totally overwhelming. You might feel angry, resentful or like you are out of control and powerless in the situation. Your thoughts and feelings about your kid’s reaction can set off your stress response.
You have no idea what to do, so you yell and threaten. Then, you feel guilty and second-guess yourself as a parent.
There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re a great parent. Let's get you out of that spiral and back on the road to parenting with peace using the power of co-regulation.
Regulating Your Stress Response
When your stress response is triggered by a meltdown, you might feel like you have to do something about it right now. Fix it, change it, stop it, solve it. Your brain interprets your child’s behavior as an emergency and floods your system with a mix of hormones I like to call “stress juice”.
Your reaction might show up as yelling, threatening, talking too much, emotionally checking out or disconnecting. These reactions are all totally normal. They’re signals that you are becoming emotionally dysregulated.
Dysregulation, simply put, is a temporary emotional and physical state in which you’re struggling to understand and express your emotion in an appropriate way. We’ve all been there!
And it happens the same way for our kids.
The big challenge comes in when your kid’s dysregulation or big feeling cycle puts you into a dysregulated state, too. When you’re in your stress response, you can’t think straight. Your brain only wants you to react as quickly as possible to get out of danger.
As humans, we are going to get dysregulated. There are going to be temporary moments when we feel overwhelmed. The goals are to not get as dysregulated and to learn to calm yourself when you do.
This is self-regulation, and it’s all about calming yourself and your own stress response.
Steps to Co-Regulation During a Meltdown
My programs teach you how to regulate yourself and how to give your kid the tools they need to self-regulate. We want our kids to grow up to know what they’re feeling, how to talk about it and what to do with that feeling.
So, how do kids learn these emotional literacy skills? Through a process called co-regulation.
Most moms are experts at co-regulation when their kids are babies. We swaddle and shush and soothe because we understand that they’re newborns. They’re going to cry, and they need soothing from us. They need to learn that they are safe and okay.
This starts to become more difficult as we reach the toddler years. When we start to see tantrums and meltdowns in 2, 3, and 4-year-olds (and beyond), we think “they should know better.” But they don't. They don’t know how to deal with their feelings yet.
In the Calm Mama Process of calm, connect, limit set and correct. Co-regulation falls into those first two steps. First, you calm yourself. Then, you connect with your kid.
When your kid has a big feeling cycle, it is not your job to fix anything or change the circumstance. Nothing has gone wrong. Take a pause break to calm your stress response, and then co-regulate.
So, what do you actually DO in co-regulation?
Step 1: Get calm. Co-regulation starts with you being calm and present. This means that you must self-regulate before you approach your child.
Step 2: Name and validate their feelings, using the Connection Tool. Narrate what you see and wonder how they might be feeling. Help them name the emotion. They may not have words for it yet. Let them know that whatever they’re feeling makes sense and is okay.
Step 3: Listen. Maybe they want to complain or protest.
Step 4: Offer ways to manage their big feelings. If they want to hit, offer them a pillow or your hands. If they want to kick, offer to take them outside to kick a ball.
Step 5: Trust that your child can handle their feelings. Our kids’ big feelings can seem pretty scary to us sometimes. Deep down, I want you to believe that even when they’re sad or scared or mad…that they’re okay. The emotion is temporary.
Your kid might cycle through the same big feelings over and over again (which can be exhausting for you), but the goal is to decrease the frequency, intensity and duration of those cycles.
Think like a scientist and look at the facts. How many meltdowns were there today? How intense were they? How long did they last? If you start to see these numbers go down over time, that’s your clue that you’re giving them the tools to self-regulate.
Look at it as a learning strategy, a long-term parenting goal. Just like learning the alphabet and learning to read, you are helping your kid learn emotional literacy. And it’s one of the greatest skills you can give them.
- The real reason you’re stuck in a parenting spiral of repeating yourself, yelling, threatening, guilt and second-guessing yourself
- How to know if you or your child is dysregulated
- A powerful thought shift to help you feel less overwhelmed by tantrums
- The difference between self-regulation and co-regulation
- 5 steps to co-regulation with your kid
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