How do we learn to manage emotions & behaviour?
A tiny baby is dependent on having all their needs met by a parent or carer. When they’re hungry, tired, cold – they become very emotional. Then as the parent holds them close & meets their need, the baby experiences a sense of relief & calm.
This cycle of emotional arousal/relaxation is constantly repeated & acts as a way of helping the child learn to manage their own arousal levels – or to self-regulate. They’re learning also that they’re loveable & others can be trusted.
A parent’s role is to offer physical comfort and psychological support. To manage their own emotions in tricky situations. They’re ‘sharing their calm’ with their child – co-regulating.
Co-regulation between parent & child (led by the parent), is the foundation for the child’s development of effective self-regulation. These skills are in turn critical for healthy relationships & behaviour control.
Children with relational trauma, who have been neglected or abused, have not had enough co-regulation. Consequently, they haven’t learned to internalise good self-regulation. They may be hypervigilant for danger & in a constant state of fight, flight, or freeze. They can be controlling, to keep their world predictable & safe. Children whose systems stay on high alert, find it hard to reach a calm state.
To help them learn to manage emotions & behaviour, we need to actively provide the opportunities for co-regulation & comfort that they missed in the past. We must recognise that children can only become successfully independent if they’ve first experienced good inter-dependence.