Co-Regulating When I Struggle to Regulate Myself

co-regulatingHaving kids is strange. Suddenly you’re responsible for making sure this tiny human eats their vegetables, becomes a good person, and ultimately doesn’t lead a life of crime or cause harm to others. We are responsible for teaching them how to act, when to act, how to react, and when to react. My shortcomings as a parent shine brighter than Taylor Swift’s future when it comes to co-regulating with my son. I believe this is the case because I act with logic, but I react with emotion.

Co-regulation is the process of children developing the ability to soothe and manage distressing emotions and sensations from the moment they can experience and understand what is happening in connection with nurturing and reliable primary caregivers.

But how do you co-regulate when you can’t regulate yourself?

Has your child ever “lost it” at the store? If you said no, you’re lying, and if you’re not, walk away now. This doesn’t pertain to you. I think we’ve all experienced a situation where we wanted to get out of the store like we were Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible. A situation where we felt like the weight of the world was on our shoulders, and we were about to crumble under the pressure with our arms full of metaphorical baggage, and then here comes our pride and joy to ask you to hold their tablet, or if they can have a toy from the store.

When you say no, what happens? The fear is that your child will melt down faster than Chernobyl. The likelihood that you will crumble faster than a building set for demolition is a real possibility, too. What if I told you that you’re not alone? Co-regulating isn’t for the weak, especially when you have to regulate your own emotions.

Take me for an example. I had a very busy week. Physically, my body was worn down. Emotionally, I was completely drained. Mentally, I was so fried I couldn’t even hold a conversation with someone. I was praying for sleep. I begged for the Sandman to visit me. Bedtime included taking an extra sliver of melatonin and a sleep aid. Come hell or high water, I was getting my eight hours (fingers crossed for more)!

So, imagine my surprise when I was woken up at 3 a.m. to the words, “Uh oh.” My 5-year-old was standing on a chair with the refrigerator doors wide open and holding the cap to our half-gallon of milk, when I heard the unmistakable sound of a liquid being dumped out.

It took everything in me not to lash out or to yell. I opened my mouth, but no words came out. This is highly unusual. He knew better. I was too tired to clean up the mess. I didn’t want to put him in time-out, and I was running on fumes. Instead, it took me a moment to co-regulate with my son. I realized how I reacted to this very unpleasant situation would influence how my son would react to inconvenient situations later in life. He apologized — preparing himself for my frustration and honestly, I was too.

In a split second, I thought about how I wanted him to act as he got older. Is there truly any point in crying over spilled milk? I took a deep breath, and instead of snapping at him, I turned it into a learning opportunity. I looked at my son and I told him that I would get him a towel so we could clean up the milk. I also reminded him that accidents happen.

Was I annoyed? Absolutely. Was I exhausted? Greatly. Did I make the right choice to calm myself down so I could help my son calm down? DEFINITELY.

My mother always made the joke, “I hope your kid turns out just like you,” in hopes that one day I would understand what she went through when parenting me. I used to laugh it off, thinking I would be so proud to have a mini-me — thrilled to have someone who “turned out” to be just like me. It also meant I had to be honest with myself about the person I am and the person I want my son to be.

I came to this conclusion. Life gets hard. Life is unbearably hard. No matter how heavy the storm is, my son’s future relies on me to regulate my own emotions — acting with compassion and understanding rather than reacting with anger or distraction.

Brittany Hutto
Brittany Hutto was born and raised in a small (but fast-growing) town in Florida. She married her high school sweetheart and is the mother to the most kindhearted and adventurous little boy named Mark. She earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of North Florida where she majored in Public Health and Health Education. She served her community during her time working with underserved populations. After a complex pregnancy, she and her husband welcomed Mark to the world at 27 weeks and 4 days. She stepped away from her career to become a stay-at-home mom so that she could take her son to his many specialist appointments, therapies, and surgeries. She works tirelessly to ensure her son is happy, thriving, and meeting every milestone. Brittany enjoys many activities with her family. In her free time, you may find her reading a good book, spending time with her family out on the boat, DIY projects, and giving back to the local NICU. She currently manages her own blog which invites you to come along on her and her son’s journey from complex pregnancy, to the NICU, and every diagnosis and surgery in between. Brittany also manages a program called Mark’s Mission which gives back to local NICUs. She is an advocate for NICU support and research and is a current student pursuing her Master of Public Administration with concentrations in Nonprofit Management and Health Care Administration at the University of North Florida. Her dream is to establish Make Your Mark as a non-profit organization to give back to more local NICUs and serve as a resource for local parents with children who have superpowers.


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