Co-Regulation is a right-brain activity. When we are with a distressed person, rather than speaking to their logical left brain, we connect with their emotional right brain.

Let’s imagine you are with a child who is really upset that their sibling has taken their toy.

Speaking to their left brain sounds like: “Well, they will only have it for a few minutes, and then you can play with it again”. This is logical.

The child is in their right brain, so this doesn’t compute. They start screaming and crying and go to pull the toy back. This child is experiencing big right-brain emotions, so it is the right brain that needs attending to.

Speaking to their right brain sounds like: “It is so hard when your sister takes your toys, I get that.” You are using a soft tone and maybe hugging them. “Especially when she didn’t ask, that must be so frustrating”. They feel heard and understood and soften.

Now you can engage the left brain. “What would you like to happen next?” or “What do you think might be fair when we share toys?”

I have used an example of a child here, but the principles are the same with adults when their left brain has switched off, and their emotional brain has taken over. Have you ever been incredibly upset about something and had someone come in with left-brain rationality and not been able to process what they are saying? I know I have. In those situations, it is more effective to come in with empathy, the ability to stand in someone else’s shoes and see the world through their eyes. To remain calm, so have a soothing tone of voice. To acknowledge their feelings. This is co-regulation.

Over time adults can learn self-regulation from experiencing co-regulation. I hope this is helpful in understanding how.

A fabulous book about regulation with children is Dan Siegel’s ‘The Whole-Brain Child’. Everything in that book can be equally applied to adults.

Wherever you are, take care of yourself.

Love, Jen

  • Co-Regulation We are not born knowing how to soothe ourselves. We need to learn the felt sense of being soothed from someone who can bear our distress and stay regulated in their own nervous system. This is known as co-regulation. When we experience co-regulation, we learn what it feels like to be calm during stress. We learn what it feels like to be soothed. As we grow older, we internalise that soothing voice and state of the regulated nervous system and are able to self-soothe alone in times of stress. When you don’t experience this co-regulation from your caregivers, you might find it challenging to stay regulated as an adult. You might find yourself lacking a felt sense of safety. You can learn co-regulation as an adult from a therapist, loving friend or partner.