Do you know anyone that has a habit of waiting for others to be different so they can feel better about a situation? Or thinks that if someone or something would just change, they would feel good and everything would be OK?
Some people depend on the external world to be a certain way so that their internal world can follow suit. It sure is nice when things go according to plan, but what happens when your plan derails or someone doesn’t behave accordingly?
Waiting for things outside of us to line up places us in a victim role and gives another person the power and responsibility for making us happy or feel calm. It places us in a position of powerlessness and susceptible to feeling disappointed, helpless and hopeless.
Parents can fall into the trap of doing the same thing. If my child was just a little bit more compliant, I would be more calm. Or, I wouldn’t be so angry if he would just listen to what I ask him to do the first time. Sometimes this way of thinking even shows up when we measure how good a parent or caregiver we are by how a child behaves on the outside. This kind of external validation places you, the parent, in a victim role and your child in a position to have to meet your needs. In this scenario, you being a good parent or feeling OK is dependent on what your child does or does not do. When kids take on the responsibility to meet your expectations and needs, their focus shifts from themselves to you. When kids worry about making mom happy or calming dad down, they are in survival mode and all focus on self regulation is stripped away.
So what’s missing? Coregulation. The art of creating the opportunity for your child to be reach calm because you are calm. In order to coregulate, you need to shift from the powerless victim role into the empowered self-leader role. You learn how to take responsibility for your own calm and joy, regardless of what your child is doing or how they are feeling. You lead with love.
If this is new to you, don’t be hard on yourself. Many of us didn’t experience coregulation as kids. Instead, we experienced co-escalation with our caregiver and never learned how to self-regulate and soothe ourselves. Regardless of your past experiences, you have the information now to create a new way of being with your children that supports a healthy dynamic built on the foundation of trust, safety and love.
Here are three things to keep in mind that will help you move from powerless to empowered.
1. Coregulation before self-regulation
A child’s social-emotional development depends on their ability to regulate their own emotions. Coregulation is a precursor to self regulation. Kids need to have experiences of coregulation with a trusted adult or caring figure in order to learn how to regulate themselves. Coregulation happens when an adult is able to regulate their own internal experience, and in doing so, has the capacity to create a safer and nurturing environment for the child to express, explore and feel.
2. Model the awareness and regulation you want to teach
When you experience your child throwing a tantrum or teen giving you attitude, it is natural to want to match the energy they are giving off as an attempt to neutralize the situation. But, what you really want to do is model the emotional regulation you want to see in them.
It starts with you and with working on your own capacity and skill to regulate your emotions. No matter what goes on outside of you, you have a point of focus that is aligned with what you are creating (a loving environment, a safe moment to feel, an opportunity to grow). When you model your own calm and ability to regulate yourself, kids experience it by seeing you do it for yourself while also feeling the impact of your action. And let me be clear – kids crave an environment that they can be themselves in, feel safe in and explore their emotions inside of.
When kids see you taking responsibility for yourself, taking time out to regulate, repairing when it is appropriate, they then feel that they are then not responsible for you. They feel they are not responsible for anyone but themselves, and it gives them the freedom to focus on their behavior and how it impacts them and those around them. It takes focus OFF of: who they need to be to make someone else feel good or better, what they need to do to make someone calm, and it gives them permission to find ease in what they really want and need, and ask for it.
3. Prioritize yourself
The best way to help children coregulate is to take the time you need to focus on yourself first. This will help you meet your own needs and align you with the energy and state to be there as a regulated being for your child. Many parents feel that it is inherently selfish to prioritize their own needs. But after almost two decades of working with thousands of families, I assure you- not focusing on meeting your own needs is not only unsustainable, it is counterproductive in having the kind of parenthood journey you want and being the parent your child deserves.