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Co-Regulation with Students " At-Risk"-- Calming Together


Co-regulation with Kids "At-Risk"-Calming Together

Highlights and thoughts from an article by Howard I. Bath:Calming together:
The pathway to self-control 

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.” Since many troubled young people have not experienced a reliable, comforting presence, they have difficulty regulating their emotions and impulses. Co-regulation provides a practical model for helping young people learn to manage immediate emotions and develop long term self-control.

Our schools and classrooms are now seeing more and more young people who are living in environments with "toxic" levels of stress. They carry this into our classrooms everyday and "act on their stress".  Often untrained and unaware teachers and administrators end up in escalating power struggles with these young people.

There is a  critical need for schools to become trauma informed...

The impact of traumatic experiences-

Many young people who have difficulty regulating emotions and impulses have been exposed to complex trauma. This has been defined by Bessel van der Kolk as “the experience of multiple, chronic and prolonged, developmentally adverse traumatic events, most often of an interpersonal nature (e.g., sexual or physical abuse, war, community violence) and early life onset” (2005, p. 402).

Complex trauma can impair the development of thinking, relationships, self-worth, memory, health, and a sense of meaning and purpose in life (van der Kolk et al., 2005).

But one impact appears to stand out above all others: “The most significant consequence of early relational trauma,” observes Allan Schore, “is the loss of the ability to regulate the intensity and duration of affects” (Schore, 2003, p. 141).


Likewise, van der Kolk states that “at the core of traumatic stress is the breakdown in the capacity to regulate internal states” such as fear, anger, and sexual impulses (2005, p. 403).

This is why these surface behaviors look to most school personnel as simply disobedience or disrespect... yes... but from a place of deep pain!!  Schools tend to treat this pain based behavior with pain based  school discipline.

“ Faced with a range of challenging behaviors caregivers have a tendency to deal with their frustration by retaliating in ways that often uncannily repeat the children’s early trauma.” -Bessel van der Kolk

Co-regulation is particularly challenging with young people in crisis. It runs counter to the “tit-for-tat” inclination to hurt those who hurt us. Co-regulation requires recognition and safe management of one’s counter-aggressive impulses.

It is hard to provide support to someone who is fighting against it. But, as Cozolino (2006) suggests, the willingness to absorb the rage of a furious adolescent is a gift that can be given, modeling the self-restraint they so desperately need.

The need to learn the Conflict Cycle- 


Co-regulation can take many forms. It typically involves warmth, a soothing tone of voice, communication that acknowledges the young person’s distress, supportive silence, and an invitation to reflective problem-solving. As with a mother tending her young infant, the defining characteristic of effective co-regulation is that it is calming and designed to help the young person manage overwhelming emotional arousal.

Rather then "Fight/Flight/Freeze" think--- TEND & BEFRIEND!!!

Co-regulation enables small children to develop more mature regulatory skills.

Over time, they learn to anticipate the soothing responses of their caregivers and then internalize the belief that help will come and emotions can be calmed (van der Kolk, 2005).

If they have not learned this as smaller children, emotional control can also be taught as children grow older through this same process of co-regulation. There is good evidence that the brain retains its capacity to learn new self-regulation skills throughout the life span (Schore, 2003).

Co-regulation alone is not enough. Young people also need to be actively taught ways to exert rational control over their emotions and impulses. For example, they need to learn verbal skills for labeling feelings and for generating rational responses. There are a number of such intervention approaches to both model and actively teach skills for self-regulation. Greene and Ablon’s (2006)

Collaborative Problem-Solving approach for intervening with “explosive” children involves a few simple steps that soothe the child through empathic engagement and set the stage for rational negotiation. Likewise, the various Life Space Intervention approaches (Brendtro and du Toit, 2005; Holden et al., 2001; Long, Wood and Fecser, 2001) provide verbal intervention formats to help youth self soothe, gain insight, and effectively manage turbulent emotions.


Many children and young people have difficulties regulating their emotion and impulses. Adults often attempt to coercively regulate the behaviours of such young people through commands, threats, and punishments that invariably inflame the situation and that generate resistance rather than learning. When young people 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.

Please let me know what you think!!

Training is available..feel free to contact me.


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Please share a PSA link to help grow public awareness of the impacts of developmental trauma. There are so many of us who’ve never heard of the overpowering, life-long impacts.   Click HERE for links designed to use in social media:


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