A Beautiful Example Of What Co-regulation Looks Like

co-regultion Aug 07, 2022

The twins wake up at 7am on the dot every morning.

Just like most Pakistani parents from my parents’ generation, my parents put me to sleep with them around 11pm-12am and so, I have a messed up circadian rhythm and I’m not a morning person.

BUT I was determined my kids WILL be morning people so I put them to sleep at 7pm from young ages and of course, they now are all early risers.

Except I’m still not- it’s a work in progress, so when Yahya (almost 4yo) woke me up this morning crying about something for the 10th time, I started to feel irritated. I’d already given him his morning snack to buy another few minutes of sleep.

So I felt a little annoyed that he was back again. But I also knew that expressing my irritation would just exacerbate the problem so I groggily but kindly asked Yahya what was up.

“I no find my race car shirt..,” he said.

I groaned. I’m behind on the laundry and forgot to put clothes in his drawer. He usually changes in the morning after waking up.

“Oh no! You want to wear that very shirt?” I tried to acknowledge.

“Yes! That’s my favorite!” He answered with the I’m-about-to-have-some-big-feelings tone.

I silently groaned some more.. I hope that shirt is somewhere in the clean laundry pile.. I thought to myself as I followed him to his room.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it so I told him it’s not there and he’d have to find something else.

The words barely left my mouth when he threw himself on the bed in his room and started writhing as if he was in intense pain,

“I NO WANT OTHER SHIRT!!!”

He screamed.

My first feeling was... oh dear.. how long is this going to last and then I took a deep breath and reminded myself that the more present I can be in this moment, the faster it’ll go.. there’s no hurrying the feelings.

“You’re upset because you really wanted to wear that race car shirt.”

He’s screaming so loudly that he could barely hear my words but my gentle and empathetic tone has made a dent and I can sense his stormy feelings tone down just a notch. A very tiny notch but a notch nevertheless.

“I. WANT. THAT. SHIRT.”

He screams. I try to say something but think better of it.

I’m just there. I try to reach out and touch him gently but he swats my hand and continues to writhe.

“I’m sorry this is so hard for you, sweetness..”

I say lightly. He didn’t hear me but still pauses at the softness of my tone.

Another few notches down.

Thoughts of when this will be over start to come again and I firmly push them away.

I’m here right now. With this little boy who’s storm needs my calm. This here, is the most important thing I could be doing.

And so I return to the task at hand and attempt to touch him again... this time he lets me.

“Can I hug you?” I say.

“NO!” He says. But a little less firmly this time.

“I’m sorry I’m so behind on the laundry.. I will try my best to find that shirt for you later today.. no job is too big and no mama is too small!” I say the last part in the Paw Patrol tone and it makes him smile ever so little.

“I wear other shirt.” He says much more calmly now.

“Oh wonderful! Thank you for your patience.”

Big smile now. A hug.

Co-regulation at work.

(For practical purposes this lasted about 20 minutes in all)

[To many people this might sound like “spoiling” a child but it’s helpful to remember a few things:

1- Children get dysregulated for various reasons and don’t actually choose to nitpick over small things. (In this case he was up for a while and ready for breakfast).

2- Acknowledging and naming their feelings is what scientists call “Affect Labeling” and it has been shown to help regulate kids and adults alike.

3- By being patient and empathetic with him during a moment of struggle, I modeled those virtues for him.

4- Had he hit me or thrown things, I’d have let him know that’s not ok and would’ve physically prevented those things]