What is Co-Regulation and how do you do it?

Co-Regulation. It’s the buzz word of our era of parenting. So what is it?

In extremely simple terms, it means to calm your baby. But there’s a twist. The focus has shifted a bit since grandma raised your parents. 


But let’s back up. In order to understand Co-regulation let’s look at Regulation.

What is Self-Regulation?

Self- Regulation is the ability to manage your thoughts, feelings and actions. When you can self regulate you can respond rather than react when you face strong emotions or stressful situations. You are aware of your emotions and have control over how you express them.


The Twist

Your baby needs help to regulate. They weren’t born with the ability to do it on their own. However, instead of seeing your role as simply regulating your baby, your role is helping your baby learn how to regulate themselves.

It’s an important distinction that will take you through parenting at all ages. 

Instead of – “I soothe you.”

It’s “I help YOU soothe you.”

(That’s so Jerry Maguire!)

And how do you do that? By Co-Regulating.


How to Co-Regulate

I hate to say it parent, but in order for you to teach your baby how to self-soothe you need to first soothe yourself.

Your baby will only start to calm if you are able to convey to them that they are safe and are attuned to. It comes down to the way you use your voice, gestures, affects, and movements.  And your baby is expert at assessing your cues.

Here’s the good news – The more you help your baby cope with moments of stress, the more they will internalize the process and learn how to do it themselves, without your help. So you’re not stuck doing this forever, but it is crucial you learn how to do it now.


So how do we actually Co-regulate?


1 . YOU self soothe.

Your baby is extremely sensitive to your behavior and emotions. If you’re feeling stressed you might have a harder time calming your baby which of course will agitate your baby more and make you feel more stressed.

This is not a chicken or the egg situation. When your baby is crying, or distressed,, you need to initiate the regulating.

How do you do that? Deep breaths, take a moment away from the situation , call a soothing friend or family member for help, put on music, etc. (Need a Fussy Baby Playist? I’ve got you covered.)

2. Tend to your baby’s physical needs.

A lot of regulating your baby has to do with being attuned to their physical needs – food and sleep.

3. Provide warmth and nurturing.

Convey through your voice, body and face that you empathize with your baby and are there to support them.

4. Decrease stimulation.

Modify your baby’s environment to decrease stress – turn off screens, lower the lights, reduce noise. These shifts are very effective in soothing you both.

5. Label Emotions.

Especially for older babies, give your baby words to understand and express what they are feeling. Teach them what those words mean.

6. Provide structure and routine.

When your baby is having a hard time with a transition rely on routines that comfort them like a lullaby before sleep, a food that they normally eat, a walk that soothes them, etc.

7. Model Regulation.

Have patience for your baby and yourself. Model calmly waiting. Sometimes it simply takes time. Modely self calming strategies like deep breaths.


2 Examples of Co-Regulation:


Example #1 – When your baby goes to sleep it can be stressful for them. The transition from being with you to parting and quieting down can be hard. By singing a lullaby you convey calm, you lower their cortisol with your voice and the melody, you hold them and help them feel safe and contained.

Eventually, as your baby grows, they will start to sing the lullaby to themselves. Have some of your babies already done this? It’s the cutest thing to hear your baby softly singing to themselves essentially embodying the sense of calm they feel when you do it.


Example #2 – Does your baby get upset when they need to part from you? Coregulating might look like another adult holding your baby as you part. They might consistently soothe your baby while being attuned and responsive to your baby’s needs. Through their voice, tone and body they would convey calm and safety to your baby.


As time goes on your baby may still be distressed by these transitions, but after having learned how it feels in their body to calm down and regulate  will be able to do it for themselves. And then these moments go from distressing to manageable.

The behavior of the people around your baby help to wire your baby’s neurobiology during the millions of stressful moments that your baby has during their first years.

Don’t worry. You don’t need to be there to co-regulate all of the time.Studies show that if your baby is co-regulated 30% of the time then we’re doing pretty well.

Dear Tunie, we are in especially challenging times right now. You and your baby need Co-regulation. I hope this post helps a bit in finding it (for more advice on how to handle tantrums try this post.)


Do you have a friend who needs help with regulation and co-regulation? Who doesn’t? Lol. Send them this post and tell them to sign up for more in the future.


Please COMMENT and let me know if this is helpful and how YOU coregulate.


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