Let’s acknowledge this: parenting is always hard
It’s even tougher in the age of COVID-19. You are teachers, life coaches, cooks, house cleaners, and an emotional support system for your kids now more than ever. In addition to carrying responsibilities such as jobs, finances, etc. which may be under more stress than ever before.
The American Psychological Association recently conducted a study about the stress parents are under. The results probably aren’t that surprising to you. This study shows that parents are under significantly more stress than their non-parent peers.
Despite the additional stress you are likely under, your kids need you more than ever. COVID-19 is an adverse life experience that could impact your children for the rest of their lives. Adverse childhood experiences are significant and it’s important that they are addressed and the effects mitigated as much as possible.
One important thing you can do to help your children, and in result lessen YOUR stress, is to co-regulate with your kids.
Neuroscience shows that humans develop their abilities for emotional self-regulation through connections with reliable caregivers who soothe and model in a process called “co-regulation.”
Regulation is a skill that indicates the ability to not act out or lose control when experiencing a strong emotion. Emotions are contained in the part of the brain called the limbic system and the big boss in the brain that helps us control impulsive behaviors or extreme emotional expression is the pre-frontal cortex. Guess when THAT is fully developed and functional? Not until about 25 years old. 25. Years. Old. So until then, children depend on the adults in their life, mostly their parents, to provide this to them. We in essence lend our pre-frontal cortex to them. When we actively do this, it is called co-regulation.
Many children and young people have difficulties regulating their emotions and impulses. Adults often try to regulate the behaviors of children and teens through commands, threats, and punishments. This approach generally worsens the situation and creates resistance rather than learning. When kids have not yet learned the skills for rational self-regulation, they need the help of caring adults to calm them and help them think rationally.
Co-regulation is the first step on the pathway to self-regulation.
Some ways to do this:
- Calm YOURSELF
- Listen without judgment. And affirm them: “I see/hear that you are having a strong feeling”
- Get on their level
- Sit with them when they are having strong emotions
- Breathe with your kids. SLOW belly breaths, in the nose, out the mouth
- When de-escalated, touch your child in a soft reassuring way
- Talk it out and have them calmly share what emotions came up for them
After an emotional experience or reaction, once you have co-regulated, you can discuss the details of what happened.
Be kind to yourself and your kids. You got this!