Co-regulation from birth Through Young Adulthood: A Practice brief
Adult caregivers such as parents, teachers, coaches, and other mentors play a critical role in shaping and supporting self-regulation development from birth through young adulthood through an interactive process called “co-regulation.” This brief builds on reviews of the theoretical and intervention literature to provide caregivers and program administrators with guidelines for effective co-regulation support at each stage of development. The brief is based on work conducted by the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy for the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), described in a series of four reports referenced throughout the brief.
This can be accessed online at: https://www.acf.hhs.gov/opre/research/project/toxic-stress-and-self-regulation-reports.
Co-regulation: What is it and why is it important?
Self-regulation has become recognized for its foundational role in promoting wellbeing across the lifespan, including educational achievement and physical, emotional, social and economic health. Self regulation can be defined as the act of managing thoughts and feelings to enable goal-directed actions, and includes a variety of behaviors necessary for success in school, relationships, and the workplace
(Murray, Rosanbalm, Christopoulos, & Hamoudi, 2015: Foundations for Understanding Self-Regulation) http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/opre/resource/selfregulation-and-toxic-stress-foundations-for-understanding-self-regulation-from-an-applieddevelopmental-perspective).
Although it may sound like something internal to an individual, self-regulation develops through interaction with caregivers such as parents, teachers, coaches, and other mentors. Further, self-regulation development is dependent on predictable, responsive, and supportive environments. Because caregivers are vital to self-regulation development, teaching adults in caregiving roles to promote self-regulation can be powerful.
The supportive process between caring adults and children, youth, or young adults that fosters self-regulation development is called “co-regulation.” This term began as a description of adult support for infants, but is now used to describe an interactive process of regulatory support that can occur within the context of caring relationships across the lifespan. Co-regulation will look different at different ages as child capacity for self-regulation grows, but remains a critical resource across development. This brief describes co-regulation skills and strategies for caregivers at each stage from birth through young adulthood.
What about caregiver self-regulation?
The first thing for caregivers such as parents, teachers, coaches, and other mentors to focus on is their own capacity for self-regulation. To co-regulate successfully, caregivers will need to: 3 Pay attention to their own feelings and reactions during stressful interactions with a child, youth, or young adult. Pay attention to their own thoughts and beliefs about the behaviors of others. Use strategies to self-calm and respond effectively and compassionately. Caregivers greatly benefit when they take a moment for some deep breaths or self-talk. When a caregiver responds calmly to a child, youth, or young adult, it helps to keep the young person’s feelings from escalating and also models regulation skills. Self-regulation during a stressful interaction with a child, youth, or young adult is no easy task, particularly when there are multiple activities and stressors vying for a caregiver’s mental and emotional resources. Caregivers may need support, practice, and coaching from friends/family or professionals to build their own coping and calm-down skills, which in turn will aid them in promoting these skills for the children, youth, and young adults in their care.
Project Officer: Aleta Meyer, PhD.
OPRE Suggested Citation: Rosanbalm, K.D., & Murray, D.W. (2017). Caregiver Co-regulation Across Development: A Practice Brief. OPRE Brief #2017-80.
Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, US. Department of Health and Human Services. This brief was funded by the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under Contract Number HHSP23320095642WC/HHSP23337035T. Disclaimer: The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, the Administration for Children and Families, or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.