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Developing Self-Regulation with your Child

Self-Regulation and Co-Regulation

Self-regulation is the act of managing thoughts and feelings in order to engage in goal-directed actions [1]. Self-regulation is not something that individuals develop independently, but rather, it develops through interactions with others, through a process called co-regulation [2]. Co-regulation can be described as the supportive process between adults and younger individuals that helps to build self-regulation [2].

How do we help with regulation?

There are various ways caregivers can co-regulate with children and youth. One way to co-regulate with a child is to provide a warm, responsive relationship by showing care and affection, understanding and responding to a child when they display signs of needs and wants, and offering support [2]. Caregivers can build strong relationships with youth by communicating with words as well as actions, showing interest and respect, and by caring for them [2]. A second way to co-regulate with youth is by structuring the environment to help make self-regulation more manageable and to create a space that is physically and emotionally safe for children to explore and learn at their own pace [2]. Another way to co-regulate with young people is to teach them self-regulation skills by modeling, instructing, having opportunities for them to practice these skills, prompting them to engage in these skills, and reinforcing them for using these skills successfully [2].

Does co-regulation look the same at each stage in a child’s development?

No, co-regulation looks different at each developmental level, as children of different ages have different needs and abilities. Youth of different ages require different supports and strategies for self-regulation.


Strategies for Co-Regulation [2]


Provide warmth and nurturance, anticipate needs, develop a routine, offer physical and emotional comfort, and decrease environmental demands


Teach age-appropriate rules and expectations, label emotions, model waiting and self-calming strategies, and redirect attention to help regulate behaviour

Preschool-Age Children

Help identify solutions to problems, coach them to help them complete tasks and follow rules, provide structure for calming down, and develop clear and consistent consequences

Elementary-Age Children

Provide a warm and nurturing relationship that is supportive, help them with complex problem-solving, develop conflict resolution strategies, model coping skills and calming strategies, teach them organization and planning skills, provide them with opportunities to self-monitor and make decisions, and have clear rules, structures, and consequences


Provide a warm and responsive relationship, offer support and empathy, model more sophisticated self-regulation skills, limit opportunities for risk-taking behaviour, provide opportunities to make decisions in less risky situations, provide time and space to calm down during conflict, monitor organization and planning skills, and have clear rules and boundaries

Young Adults

Continue providing a warm and supportive relationship, offer comfort and empathy, support their long-term goals, share perspectives and help with complex problem-solving, and give them space to make their own decisions and experience the consequences of their decisions

What are the benefits of co-regulation?

There are many benefits of co-regulation. For example, effective co-regulation by caregivers can help promote self-efficacy in children, youth, and young adults [2]. In addition, a study of children who were separated from their mothers for a brief period of time found that children who had higher post-separation positive co-regulation and lower negative co-regulation at 36 months had lower internalizing symptoms at 54 months of age [3]. This suggests that positive co-regulation from caregivers can help mediate or reduce internalizing symptoms at a later age, such as depression.

To Conclude…

Self-regulation develops through interactions with other individuals, such as caregivers, coaches, and teachers. [2]. Co-regulation is the process of building self-regulation skills [2]. There are many ways caregivers can co-regulate with children, youth, and/or young people. Co-regulation will look different depending on which stage the young person is at in their development. It is important for caregivers to focus on their own capacity to self-regulate before helping a young individual self-regulate [2] Caregivers can do this by stepping back and taking a deep breath, paying attention to their own feelings, and using calming strategies when needed [2]. Remember to make time for yourself so you’re able to support others!

Do you or your child need help with self-regulation or emotion regulation? Email to talk about your options!

Blog post written by Kassandra Burk and Dr. Andrea Stelnicki.

Literature review prepared by Kassandra Burk.

*The information contained in this blog post is based on a narrative review of available literature. Some studies may have been unintentionally omitted. You are advised to speak with a healthcare professional to determine if the information is appropriate to your specific circumstances.*


[1] Murray, Desiree W., Rosanbalm, Katie, Christopoulos, Christina, and Hamoudi, Amar (2014). Self-Regulation and Toxic Stress Report 1: Foundations for Understanding Self-Regulation from an Applied Perspective. OPRE Report # XXX, Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrived from

[2] 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.

[3] Guo, Y., Spieker, S. J., & Borelli, J. L. (2020). Emotional Co-Regulation AMong Mother-Preschooler Dyads Completing the Strange Situation: Relations to Internalizing and Externalizing Symptoms. Journal of Child and Family Studies.


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