Co-regulation & Self Regulation

Last Wednesday, I promised to follow up on my three points on Burden Bearing Mothers. Today, I am talking about number one.

Children from hard places CAN’T, Not WON’T bear their own burdens. They cannot self-regulate.

He ran through the house, knocking chairs over and books off the shelves. “I can’t get him to behave,” his mother said. She covered her face with her hands and wept. “I didn’t know adoption would be this hard. I don’t know if I can do this!”

Maybe you feel this way about an adopted, foster or your own special needs child. It seems as if the child is a cyclone of Dysregulated behavior. While everyone else sits quietly, he is constantly moving, rocking, pounding or getting up every two seconds. He just cant’ control himself. That is, he cannot regulate.

“A two year-old is adopted from an orphanage where she was underfed, under-touched, and neglected. From lack of stimulation, her sense have not developed normally. In her new adoptive home, she is bombarded by unfamiliar sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and physical sensations, and she is bewildered by the social expectations in the unfamiliar environment. Her impoverished early life makes it impossible for her to keep up, and she becomes overwhelmed with stress and frustration. She expresses herself the only way she knows how-through tantrums and aggressiveness.”-The Connected Child

When and how do children learn regulation?

A child learns to regulate through co-regulation. Mother regulates for him first. She wraps him in a blanket when he is cold. She feeds him when he is hungry. Changes his wet diaper. Smiles when he is content. He picks up these expressions and feelings through the mirror effect.

We say a child is unable to regulate when he cannot control his impulses or doesn’t recognize the needs of his own body. He doesn’t recognize thirst or hunger because no one fed him regularly in his early life or he has developed sensory issues. He wears a coat when it eighty degrees or shorts when it is twenty. He has impulse control issues. He grabs what is not his. He stuffs food in his mouth that belongs to a sibling. We see these as ‘bad behaviors’ that we want to snuff out.

A child who missed out on the co-regulation steps of his early life cannot regulate.

Jacob is a great biblical example of the inability to regulate.

Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. 30 He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom.[d])

31 Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.”

32 “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”

33 But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob. Genesis 25: 19-33

Jacob had no impulse control. He couldn’t wait for food. He didn’t consider the consequences. We don’t know much about his early life, how he was parented, other than his mother favored him. We can assume from his behavior that he struggled with regulation. After Jacob sold his birthright, he spent much of his life in fight, flight or freeze. He ran, deceived and hid. And one night, God came to him and promised to watch over and care for him. Later, he wrestled with God. Literally. And he trusted God.

There is hope, Mothers, for the child who cannot regulate. For the one who is impulsive. The one who lies. The one stuck in survival mode. The one who does things that leaves us scratching our heads.

Each of our children are chosen, before the foundation of the world, in the mother’s womb they were formed. Don’t let the current behavior form prophecies of doom in your mind. Pray the word. Speak the word over your child while he sleeps.

What are some other practical steps you can follow to help this child?

  1. Food and water every two hours
  2. Ask him, “What do you need?” instead of “What’s wrong?”
  3. Give him words if he has none.
  4. Ask questions that activate the upstairs brain.
  5. Teach him some coping skills, listening to music,  jumping on a trampoline, journaling in pics, etc….

These practices sound simple, but children who cannot regulate need someone to do it for them. If they don’t recognize their body’s signals, they walk around slightly dehydrated and hungry. Asking them what is wrong makes them slow down and process. Don’t be in a hurry or think they always know. That is why we must give them words if they have none. It looks like you need a break, do you? that sort of thing. When the child is ready, move onto asking questions, “how do you think we could solve this problem?” Finally, teach him some coping skills that match his personality. This is self-regulation. Don’t ask a kid who is not keen on sports to use running as a coping skill. Mothers, you know your child, work with him until together you find something that helps. Be patient with yourself and the child. This is investment parenting, not drive through instant parenting. It is a marathon with lots of water breaks and great views. Enjoy the journey.

Linking up with Kristin Taylor for Three Word Wednesday, join us!

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2 thoughts on “Co-regulation & Self Regulation

  1. Having a raised a special needs child and 2 typical children, I am reminded of how different it can be to train and raise these kids. When they were little it wasn’t a big deal, just sometimes it felt like it was more work. I love the work, but it was more. Even now as an adult, things are different and sometimes so different that I feel myself back in those early stages of parenting a special needs child. I think we have more patience when they are little and more grace because of their size and their development. Yet, these words are a reminder of how to also approach my adult child who may need a little more effort and a little more work to transition than her siblings do.
    I can tell you that at times then and even now, I never have felt adequate to be her momma. But I am so thankful that I get to be, even when it is hard and different and work.

    Thanks for the gentle reminders to do the things I already know to do.
    Blessings,
    Dawn

    • Dawn, I understand. The work is often more encompassing. It is more time, more energy. I often feel as if I don’t have a grasp on it and I need reminders, often. So, I guess I am reminding myself as well. Thanks for the note and feedback. Blessings, Kathleen

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