Co-Regulation vs. Self-Regulation

voices of your village Dec 02, 2021


00:00:01    Alyssa

You're listening to Voices of Your Village, this is episode 201. In this episode I got to hang out with Katie Crosby. She is one of my favorite humans over on instagram, you might know her account Thriving Littles, and we dove into co-regulation and self-regulation. What this looks like in parenting and interacting with tiny humans, and why one comes before the other. Folks, I have an exciting announcement. I am going to do a live workshop on highly sensitive children in a couple weeks. So we are just putting the final buttons on stuff and you can reserve your spot in this workshop starting on Monday, December 6th. We'll send you an email and I'll share about it in my instagram stories, if you want to come join me for a live workshop on highly sensitive children, diving into sensory sensitivities and emotional sensitivities. We are going to do just that, so head on over to Instagram next Monday, check my stories to see where you can sign up, and then come join me. I'll be going live on December 15th. And if you can't join live, no worries, as long as you have your spot in the workshop we will send you access to the recording as well. Alright folks, let's hang out with Katie Crosby. Let's dive in. 


00:01:30    Alyssa

Welcome to Voices of Your Village, a place where parents, caregivers, teachers and experts come to support one another on this wild ride of raising tiny humans. We combined decades of experience with the latest research to create the modern parenting village. Let's dive into honest conversation about real parenting challenges, so it doesn't have to be this hard. I'm your host, Alyssa Blask Campbell. 


00:02:00    Alyssa

Hey everyone, welcome to Voices of Your Village. Today I'm here with Katie Crosby, an OT and y'all know. I'm a sucker for an OT. Super jazzed to get to hang out with you today, Katie. How are you? 


00:02:13    Katie

I am good. Alyssa. Thanks so much for having me, look forward to talking with your village. 


00:02:17    Alyssa

Yeah, thank you. Thanks for joining us. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and kind of what led you to here? What life looks like for you now? 


00:02:26    Katie

Yes. So I am a pediatric occupational therapist, as you said, and I became interested in OT, probably I didn't hear about it until after undergrad. So once I heard about it, I thought, wow, this seems like a great profession, in many ways, I've always been interested in mental health and psychology, and I actually ended up working in logistics after undergrad for a while. Which is completely unrelated and then took a turn and switch to OT. And it brings me to life in Chicago, where I work at a private practice full time. And then I do Thriving Littles on the side, which is a consult service where I talk with families and kids and do video work with them. 


00:03:11    Alyssa

That's awesome. So it's like virtual consult for OT? 


00:03:15    Katie

It isn't OT. So it's informational consults based on the science and evidence based work that I do. It's not technically therapy or billed as OT because of insurance purposes, and it's not considered Telehealth. So it's more really working deeply with parents and families to go through patterns and explore the parent-child match and look at things from more of a big picture versus me seeing a child in the drop-offs section and getting them on their way. 


00:03:46    Alyssa

Awesome. That's so cool. Well, I found you through Thriving Littles on Instagram and was like, yeah, let's hang let's chat. We, today I want to dive into the difference between co-regulation and self-regulation. We get so many questions about what they are, what the difference is, when one is appropriate versus another and kind of how to move from co-reg to self-reg. I tell families all the time that we start by co-regulating, right? Like infants don't come out, and they're like, oh, I know how to self-soothe. Then we start by co-regulating and then we move eventually into building self reg skills. So I want to kind of take folks through this timeline and what that looks like. When we're talking about co-regulation, can you kind of define that for folks for what that means? And what that looks like? 


00:04:43    Katie

Yes, absolutely. And I think the regulation terminology is more and more becoming mainstream, but it, and that's so cool. But it is this big word that really just means that we are emotionally organizing with the support of a trusted other so caregiver or in adult life, a friend. So we're always co-regulating each other based on how we're interacting throughout the day. And it's happening in moments of joy and pleasure and fun. So anytime you share joy generally with somebody else, or you are using emotional signaling across space even, if something happens and it's funny, or you want to laugh together, anytime that you're sharing that emotional energy exchange with another, it's really co-regulation. So when we are kids speaking about co-regulation and the emotional world, meaning most of the questions that I get from parents, which are "my child is having big feelings or intensity, or they've been really angry lately." So co-regulation often comes up in talking about these more "negative" range of emotional states. So when we think about meltdowns, the co-regulation aspect of it is that an adult is there with the child guiding them through it. So it isn't the adult saying to stop crying or stop hitting, or don't do that, as much as it's the adult being a guide to help the child make meaning of the behavior that they're experiencing. But most importantly, the emotion, which is the root of that behavior. So in a negative emotional range or meltdown or tantrum, the language that we hear, co-regulation is really what ultimately sets the stage for the child to self-regulate down the road. So it's thousands of repetitions co-regulating with a trusted adult who is regulated themselves in order for a child to develop this robust system of what it means to regulate their own body and nervous system. 


00:06:59    Alyssa

I love that when you were saying that I was thinking of mirroring like mirror neurons, and like if a baby is laughing. And like that belly giggle, it's so delicious. And we then like, you have to smile and laugh. Right? Like we're feeding off of, some people refer to it as that energy. But really, this is a part of the CEP method. One of them is scientific knowledge, and it's understanding this mirroring that when we show up to the table, no one is showing up with a   blank slate right like there is this, there are mirror neurons firing off each other. And in the same way that you're laughing when that baby laughs, if that kid is having a tantrum on aisle 4 you are internally having a tantrum on aisle 4, right? We are in this together. And I love that you just threw in at the end that we, it's our job to self-regulate in order to show up for that tiny human that it's not their job to find the calm. It's our job to bring it. I think that that's that's so huge here. 


00:07:58    Katie



00:07:58    Alyssa

And the like thousands of repetitions like yes, we don't read to kids as infants, expecting them to read back to us tomorrow. We read to kids as infants, expecting them to read back to us years down the road and regulation and emotional development is the same thing that we are repeating this over and over and over. It's like reading Goodnight Moon for years. We're repeating it over and over and over for them to be able to build this skill set to do it on their own when we're not there one day. 


00:08:29    Katie

Yes. And there's, there's so much difficulty in that step of us being regulated first, right? So I think the majority of the effort, or the work that I see in this whole process, is that we're working on our own regulation while they're trying to figure out theirs. So there's so much that goes into just that and being available for them in the moment. So I love Allan Schore, a great resource for books on affect regulation and how kids develop this. And it really is tricky to do if the adult doesn't have a broad understanding of themselves and their cues in a way that they can be available for the child. 


00:09:08    Alyssa

Yeah, no, that's huge. And and so, I mean, life is going to happen right? Like life's going to be busy, you're going to be trying to get out the door to go to work or trying to get a kid to bed. And it is going to be busy and stressful. And I think I have a lot in alignment with Janet Lansbury. We both. I love Magda Gerber. I've learned a lot from her as a professional, and so Janet and I fall in line with a lot of things here. But one place that I see like a giant divide often is this idea that like it's, it's all going to be easy and perfect, and you're just going to show up and regulating. It'll be fine, like get your stuff together, and it's just not real life. And so I think part of this is looking at. In fact, the CEP method has five components and only one of them is adult-child interactions. The other four are about us as adults. What are we doing? And what are we bringing to the table so that we can show up and respond instead of react? And I think, as you were just saying, like the hardest part is regulating our own emotions when we're like, I have to get out the door to go to work right like I don't have time to sit here for 20 minutes and breathe and find my calm or whatever, like, how do we navigate this? And I think when we're looking at like teaching kiddos to regulate whether we're co-regulating or we're trying to move towards self-reg skills, the modeling is so huge. So huge. If what they see is that like, we have a hard emotion, and we just yell about it or we fly off our handle without finding our calm? That's what, that's what they know. 


00:10:44    Katie

I think the repetition you mentioned is the same for us. So I see it as just recognizing that as humans, we will mess up, and we will fly off the handle at times. And that's the way that we're wired is reactive and more impulsive, and we have that in us somewhere. So it's bound to come out when you're ready to go out the door and trying to get somewhere and life's stressors are showing up. So the repetition gives the opportunity for practice and just recognizing that shifting, even a few percent every time that were interacting, you know, trying to do a little bit better each time and repairing that when it doesn't happen and not letting all that build up and form this self blame or guilt, or all of that stuff that really eats away from us being present in the moment when not only emotions are there, but all through life. So the repetition piece is so big for everybody. 


00:11:40    Alyssa

Yeah, I love that so much. So if you have a tiny, say you're coming to the table, you're like, all right, I'm in a good place. I feel like I can find my calm. And now I want to co regulate with this child to help them find their calm. So we can move forward. Can you give us some examples of what that might look like? We'll start with like infancy and toddlerhood. 


00:12:03    Katie

Yes. So this is a question I get all the time. And because the disclaimer is so individual with each child. So when I look at each child, each child's nervous system is as unique as a fingerprint. So when we think about co-regulation, really, the first step is understanding the child's cues and signals and reading them from moment to moment and adapting our interaction in a way that is beneficial for that, or matches it in some way, meaning we are either up regulating or down regulating their nervous system, their body and the emotions in those moments. So with infancy, there are many similarities and possibilities of how we can regulate an infant. And as an OT I really think about the sensory systems. And I think everybody would, should have this awareness, because it's so valuable of when we think about infantile regulation, it's really body that is the main piece of it. So I think about it as we're really closing the energy and space to be close to the infant and the body on body using sounds in our voice and a certain way that feels organizing to the infant using temperature. So some kids, if you step outside for a minute, maybe they were too warm. So we're adjusting the temperature of the child, or maybe they were cold, and they want to be warmed up. So we're reading that, swaddling or firm pressure is an example of this. So we go through each sensory system. And there's eight of those I would suggest everyone Google them and be familiar. But I'm completely biased as an OT. So there's so many good insights in sensory systems that we can use to co-regulate an infant and understand their bodies and minds and emotions a little bit better. So, in a baby, I'm looking at the mother or caregiver, or father being close to the infant in some way. And then as we learn the co-regulation beyond that, it's kind of like stretching it across space. So the first step is all about the sensory strategies to soothe, and we would use these If the child is dysregulated enough or disorganized, having a meltdown, upset enough to need sensory strategies to soothe. So that means that they're not able to process language, which we think about most infants are not yet ready to hear any kind of complex language and focus on the body and our presence and our nonverbal communication systems. 


00:15:03    Alyssa

Yeah, I love that. And I think, I love that you pointed out that it's so different between kids actually our sleep consultant's currently on maternity leave, and she has a four and a half year old and just had this new babe. And he came, and she was like, whoa, like her world is rocked. Everything she had known from her older daughter wasn't working to regulate this tiny human. And I showed up. He was three weeks old and I, it was quickly realized like he doesn't want to be close to my body right? Like he wants to be farther away, he wants to be in a quiet dark room. He wanted, like movement to fall asleep, where as her daughter, she could like snuggler up, feed her, she'd fall asleep on her anywhere and had a very, had very different sensory systems. And the way that she regulated was so different and took it is hard when you're in it, to step back and communicate, I think, especially really with infants. The idea of communicating with infants, I think, is a hard thing for a lot of folks to kind of wrap their brains around, because they're not going to turn and say, hey, Mom, I don't like that, but they are going to with their response, right? Like every time I brought him close to me, he literally, at three weeks was pushing himself away from me, or like turning his body away. And so that for me, like paying attention to that, but it does take like us, being able to find our calm and pay attention to their responses to kind of figure out what it is they're trying to say to us and what they're communicating there. 


00:16:40    Katie

Yeah, in that moment where they're crying and they're really upset. It's like we're biologically triggered by that, especially if it's your child. So there's not that space for reading those subtle cues like an infant turning away. So that's a big queue that we learn to look at is their eye gaze. And if they are looking at us that may, that may mean that they want more whatever we were doing. And if they turn their head, it's their way of saying, okay, a little bit too much, take a break, or whoa, way too much, stop and adjust and figure out how to do that differently, because I didn't like that. So it is reading their little subtle cues that they have available to communicate in the early moments, where they're just learning to figure out what their body is like, and that they have hands and feet and tools to communicate. So it takes a lot of awareness in the moment. And recognizing that they're crying isn't meaningful for us, in that we're not doing a good job in some way. That it is just something that they're going through and a body response that they're having, and we can figure out how to shift and adjust from there. 


00:17:46    Alyssa

Oh I love that, I love, that you just pointed out the like they're crying, isn't. It's not a fault to ours, right? It's not that we haven't that we aren't doing good enough here. We're not meeting their needs. And I think, you know, there is that physiological response to want to make that that crying stop. And I think, especially in our youngest babes, where we're like, oh yikes, they're crying. That means they need something. And I need to figure out how to make it stop and our sleep, consultant Rachel, she just kept saying, like, he, he's fed. He like just woke up from a nap like he all these like things, his needs are met essentially. And she's like, and I don't know what else he needs. And we just started looking at his stimulation and what helped him feel calm. And it was, again, it was different than her older daughter. And so it was harder to like see in the moment. But sometimes we have this like rush to make them stop crying that it can be hard to pause and see what they're really communicating with us. 


00:18:52    Katie

Mhm, absolutely. And I think just knowing how tricky it can be to understand wants and needs in ourselves. And then we think about, okay, if we're still figuring out what we want and what we need, and how to communicate that, I think there's so few of us that are really experts in that a really good at thinking. Okay, this is what my body's feeling. This is what I need right now. We're all pretty disconnected, not to have a negative view. But if we didn't go through this co-regulation sequence, thousands of repetitions in early childhood and have caregivers that were really attuned to that and reading our cues and available. Then it can be really tough in these moments, one, to be available, but also not to project our own emotional experience on to that child and kind of recreate this cycle. So it's so cool. And I think we're all preaching to the choir with your podcast. But it's so cool that we’re questioning these patterns and shifting things things in so many ways. 


00:19:56    Alyssa

Yeah, for sure. So then as we're getting older, so we're moving into toddlerhood. Look at like ones and twos here. What does this look like? What does co-regulation look like? And how do we start to move into building that self-reg skill? 


00:20:14    Katie

So it really can go back to. And Bruce Perry has a triangle online. If everybody, I'd love everybody to have that visual, just for talking about it's called The Learning Triangle. And it goes through. So the bottom of the triangle is regulation. So when we think about the sensory strategies for soothe and nonverbal communication, the presence, meaning regulation in that way. And then the next step higher is relate. So it's again becoming more distant, you're still there, but maybe you're an arm's length away, or you're using eye contact or shared gaze to regulate instead of a body on body approach. And then the third up on the triangle is reason. So that's where we bring in some language and problem solving. And for toddlerhood, we could always go back to the sensory strategies to soothe. And I think this is an area that I think caregivers have a tougher time with, because even a four-year-old or a five year old could still benefit from sensory strategies to soothe at times, but because they're older, our demands are higher and our expectations are different, and we might not be as available to offer that to them. So toddler life, I would say, is where we’re often still using some of those sensory strategies. But really working on building the co-regulation in ways that is more shared. So instead of the adult doing a lot to soothe the child, the toddler is learning to read their own signals and cues and to regulate themselves with the adult there and present. So things that that may look like our instead of if a toddler falls and gets hurt instead of a parent or caregiver rushing and right away and picking them up, we're waiting for the child to initiate. So if they fall and they cry, and then they look to the caregiver and put their arms up, that's them starting this process of okay, I got hurt, and I need, or I want my caregiver with me, because I feel unsafe right now, or I feel insecure that was a big surprise, or it really hurt. So we're helping the a child see that they can recognize that on their own. Because again, we want the crying and the upset to be done biologically. But if we can, slow that moment down a little bit and wait for the child to look into signal to the parent, there's so much integration happening in that moment because they're upset, they have to orient to their environment and maybe notice what happened, maybe notice where their caregiver is in space, so integrating their auditory system and their visual system and their postural system and their emotions in a way that's pretty complex. And we don't often think about when a child is slipping and hitting their knee on the curb. So there's a lot of co-regulation meat in that moment alone that can happen. 


00:23:28    Alyssa

I love that. And I think you nailed something we see often where we expect, it's expectations right where we have certain expectations of a one-year-old, and how they will show up in the world emotionally and language, and what to what tools they'll have. And then we have what's often referred to as these "terrible two's" where we're like expecting these tantrums. And we expect these meltdowns. And now we have this term "threenager". Not sure if you've heard that bad boy. 


00:23:58    Katie

Oh yeah. 


00:23:59    Alyssa

But really, when it, what I see it as in a lot of my work, is that we didn't give these kids tools as a one-year-old, and then we still didn't give them the tools as a two-year-old. And now they're three and we expect them to have them. But we haven't given them to them, because our expectation wasn't that, when they were one and two, and now we're like, all right, buck up sister. Let's do this stuff together. And they're like, I don't have stuff to get together right? Like and then this continues right where I just had somebody the other day who was like, I feel like four is the hardest age now, I'm like right, because your expectations have risen of what they're capable of, but we haven't built their emotional toolbox for that. And I think kiddos are capable of so much more so young, if we know, kind of where to fit this in. And I love that you initiated this with the like if they fall and get hurt, because our instinct, I mean, if they're running into the street, please don't pause and wait for them to respond. Right? Like, go grab them, but if they fall and get hurt and there isn't like face of blood on the sidewalk here, and they just like bumped their knee or whatever. I love that you use that as an example, because our instinct is to swoop in and make it stop, because they're feeling something hard, and it sucks so bad to watch someone you love and care about, especially your tiny human feels, something that's hard and so much of learning. I think this self-reg skills here is knowing it's okay to feel something that's hard, and that I can build tools to find my calm so that we can problem solve. Do conflict resolution. Talk about it, move on. But first, when it kiddo is having a hard feeling, sending them that message that like, oh, this sucks. And it's okay, right? Like I'm going to be here with you. You have tools. And now we can bring in, we use coping strategies instead of coping mechanisms, as kids are getting older to help process. And when we're turning to these coping strategies, kiddos are gonna feel it for a little longer. Oh, how can I help you feel calm is one of my favorite sentences. Or how can I help you feel safe? Because it's triggering to them. Like there are tools to help you do that. And I'm here to be a part of it with you as you're building those.


00:26:30    Katie

There's so much to what you just said, I was just taking notes on little topics because there's so much meat in there. And I think the acceptance is a big word that I was thinking as you're talking because it just hearing that yes, the expectations on age range can really be tricky when we're thinking about humans. Because especially in those toddler/preschool years, there's so much emotion that is coming out and that they're learning to feel and experience and how it and originates is this primitive, impulsive, reactive way of being that's really has. It's really got a lot of strengths if you think about it, because they're so in the moment, they're fully invested like their body, mind and emotion is fully in the moment, which is most adults and say that very little, we're all working on it and learning, but they're really in this primitive protective mode where if they hit. It's likely a very reasonable body reaction that they're having to something that happened before that. So adapting our expectations in recognizing that if we expect that the child will never hit, or they will never have a meltdown, then we're setting everybody up for a really difficult time. And if we can think and understand what's happening developmentally in those years, and that when a motion first comes out, it doesn't really look pretty or organized, it looks reactive, it looks animalistic in some ways, and it's our role to shape that and shift it and guide them and let them know, as you mentioned, that isn't the goal, to avoid all this emotion and just shut it down and repress it and internalize it, which is what so many of us have done. It comes out later in anxiety or depression, or perfectionism, or browsing social media for hours on end. 


00:28:27    Alyssa

Or a lot of therapy dollars. 


00:28:29    Katie

Or a lot of therapy dollars, yes, which I think everybody could benefit from, but it's a lot easier if we can help them develop these tools and early childhood and not pick up all the shame that comes with, a child hitting a then a parent saying no, don't do that. That's not nice, but they're not really making meaning of the original emotion so that if they hit, they feel really guilty, and their anger may be displaced with fear, because they know that they're not supposed to be doing that. They might get in trouble, so they're never really learning to work on that primitive urge of anger. And it's protective response that they're having. And it's really tough to make meaning of a sensation in the body if we're not able to go there and have an adult that's guiding us through it. 


00:29:21    Alyssa

Yeah. And I, I think, really what you touched on on here is that what we're trying to develop are pro-social ways to express right like I'm 30 years old, and I still have tantrums. I've just learned how to have a tantrum in a way that's pro-social, how to express in a way that's pro-social. And then how to find my calm doesn't mean I never feel disappointment or fear or sadness or anger or embarrassment, or shame or guilt, or any of those hard feelings. It just means that I have learned how to express them and how to process them in a way that's pro-social. And that's what I want to give kids. I don't want them to stop feeling these hard things, because that's not how anybody lives right like that's that that goal is unattainable. That's not how we function and really here when they are hitting. I look at it as like, okay, I have not given them the tools to express this in another way, right? Like they're having a hard feeling and doing what feels comfortable to them, what they know how to do in this moment. And if I then turn and admonish that, then I'm adding shame to what they're already feeling. Right? Like I'm just layering more emotions on here, and it's really, really hard in the moment, because I had a kid slap me across the face once, and I'm like, whoa, you’re caught off guard. It sucks to be hit, and it can feel like an attack on you, right? Like also, primitive for us, and it takes a lot in that moment, the only thing I could get out that was kind to her in that moment was I'm going to go to the bathroom. And but I knew, if I said, anything else, I was going to react instead of respond. And so I was better off leaving this child who was deeply upset about her magnetile tower crashing, leaving her sitting there, crying so that I could walk away, find my calm in the bathroom and then come back and respond. And but the goal here isn't that she's going to stop throwing tantrums. It's that she's going to learn. It's okay to feel mad. It's okay to feel disappointed that my magnatile tower crashed. And here is a way that I can express, that that doesn't hurt the folks around me or that doesn't hurt myself. 


00:31:40    Katie

Yeah, it's so high level in you just you taking space and knowing that if there's a certain level of anger or intensity in our bodies that how can we shift the moment in a way that benefits us and takes care of our nervous system, as you mentioned. Because there's so many protective things that are happening in that moment if we feel threatened and kind of questioning. Okay, is she a threat to my health or well being right now, with these intense emotions? But it takes this cognitive energy because our emotional body doesn't have the practice going through that. It can feel really tough to take a moment to step back. So that's powerful when you can do that. And I think for so many kids that I see there's a lot of them that have been more passive babies or passive toddlers, and we get a lot of, our society has a lot of emphasis on the externalize behaviors that show up. So kids that are acting out or having big emotions. But there's this whole other crew that is passive and internalizing or not getting that emotion out there. So if I have a child like that, and I see them get angry and do something with their body, it's really powerful, because that's telling me that their thoughts and emotions are coming together. So if they're feeling something their bodies wanting to react versus passivity, which is, if you feel something, the body isn't sure what to do. It's almost like a frozen avoidant way, if you will, because the body isn't releasing that energy in some physical way. So I sometimes see anger or body reactions as a really positive thing in progress. If a child has been passive before that and has not been showing the emotion, because if it's in us and I think about this with teenagers, because if they're experiencing something, but not showing anybody not acting out, not telling their even their friends or their family, what's happening, then that's where it gets dangerous with mental health. But if they're acting out, we can think about, okay, how is the behavior making sense? How can we support them? And recognizing that the behavior is communicating something. So, going back to toddlers. This is where we set the foundation for them coming to us later in life and doing things that we can connect through versus isolating or shutting down. 


00:34:13    Alyssa

Yeah, no, I do. I loved so much about that. I am very expressive. People always said, oh, you wear your heart on your sleeve. I'm super expressive. And my husband's the opposite, right? Like he feels. And if it's a hard feeling, he shuts down, and it took a lot for me, and I see it in our tiny humans too actually the kid who slapped me across the face is generally, I was so caught off guard, because she's generally a kid who goes quiet when she has hard emotions. And I think that it's so true, especially for our teachers tuning in in a classroom, where we have kids who are really expressive. And we're seeing these big behaviors, those kiddos can often get our attention from the behavior so that we can start to figure out what's going on with them. But the kiddos who were quiet and are shutting down often don't get our attention, because we're like, oh, they're fine, right? They're not expressing they're fine. But when we can look at it and say, oh, I just saw this interaction happen. It means being really present and you're not going to get it all the time. And that's okay. But when we can step in and say, you know, I just saw. So I was in a block area with four year olds, and they were building this amazing like spaceship, and they put it together, and they were all jazzed and they were going to go to space. And another kiddo came over and was like can I come in your spaceship, and they were like, no, there's no room. And so in that moment that kid, like sulked away, there wasn't a behavior that came after it. It would have been real easy if I wasn't there in that moment to not see it happen and not see that kiddos hard emotions that just were going inward, right? And I just sat in the block area. And I was like, oh, man, I wonder how it would feel if you really wanted to play, and you came over, and you asked if you could play and there wasn't space for you. I didn't tell them, you have to go include him. I didn't whatever, and they got to work, and they made more space. And they invited him into the group all on their own, which doesn't always happen that way. It was delicious. But just like, recognizing and if they hadn't made when I saw them making space I was like, okay, they're going to navigate this, and he's going to come back into the group. And if they hadn't, I would have left the block area and went and not necessarily made them make him be included, because that doesn't make anyone feel included when somebody tells you you have include this person, but instead gone over and been like, oh man, you really wanted to go play in that block area. And they built that spaceship and there wasn't space for you that stinks that must feel really lonely and connecting with that kiddo who isn't expressing, because they're still feeling. 


00:37:03    Katie

Yes. And there's so many co-regulation things you're doing in that moment. So one kind of reframing behavior. So if he's moving away, he's not acting out, he's not staying in it. So something might be telling us that he's not feeling safe in the moment in a way that he can adapt and shift and negotiate, if you will, or show us in some way that he wants to play, and he's not feeling secure enough with those kids to continue forward and persist. So he takes a break. Likely you were maybe getting down at his level. So using your body positioning to get down kneel down with him and share, which is something I would suggest to that age group, because anytime we are standing over them like this, big human were pretty threatening. And we don't realize that because the animalistic preferences or ideas that we have about the world are of somebody's bigger and taller that they're possibly a threat. So getting down at their level, joining it and connecting with your gaze. So he likely felt seen. And that moment, if you're sharing eye gaze with him and talking with him, which feeling seen, safe soothed and secure are all techniques or ways that we can help kids be more organized and calm in the moment. So you're using your language at that point, probably changing your tone of voice, whether you recognize it or not, I'm sure you are recognizing it, tone of voice and speed a voice. So we might cut our speed of language in half and talk slower or talk more rhythmically or use those ways of connecting in the moment. So that's all once we're getting past the sensory strategies. That's the next level that I would suggest is using still the presence and the nonverbal and the body language, but bringing in some tone of voice shifts and changing your prosody and connecting with them in those relating ways. 


00:39:05    Alyssa

I love that, it brought up a huge point for me that, like you can say, all the right things and still not connect with the kiddo, right and or, or an adult right like Zach can come home, and be like, how was your day. With like no actual connection in his voice, not versus like, Hey, Alyssa, how was your day? And those are two very different things. And it's the same with these tiny humans that if I'm just like, what do you need? What's up? Sorry, you got hurt, right? Like if I'm not actually in this with them. If I'm not emphasizing, they're going to know by tone of voice, they know from exactly our body posture. It actually made me think. It's like how often you know. Obviously, right now, there's a huge conversation and push towards equality in the workforce, or even just understanding what happens in the workforce in general, in in ways that we haven't necessarily questioned for decades, and how being a person of power affects how other people respond to you or what people. And it's the same, I think, in the caregiver/parent relationship to a child that a child's response might partially be because of how they perceive us, either as a person of power and control and/or are physical stature of being like a larger than them and standing over them. And I think when we can get down and connect with them on the like, hey man, I'm in this with you at you're not in trouble for this. I just want to chat with you. We can go so many different places there. 


00:40:44    Katie

Yes, and the fixing, I think, comes with that power position. So when we want to fix or say just the right thing to help somebody, and we think we know what they need. And we think our advice is so helpful. So why not share it? You know, there's this a lot of discomfort with emotion that comes in that first and foremost. So if we're wanting to fix, or if we wanted to give advice and somebody is upset, it is this discomfort with our own emotions and our experience that is being projected on that. But also it sets up exactly this power and control dynamic, where versus instead of empathy. So instead of getting down at the level and sharing it and feeling something in us that really deeply recognizes what they're feeling. So yes, maybe we're we've never been upset about a magnetile structure collapsing. But maybe we've been upset about something else that we worked really hard on, and we put our whole life into before a short time, but they don't recognize that. And then it didn't work out, and it failed in some way, or something was messed up, or something didn't fit our vision of what we expected. So if we can be comfortable with that, then we can exude empathy in the moment versus just this strategy that we've learned to help kids get through this. So yes, it's much more about the how we're saying things, the how what we're doing and thinking about it in a really human way versus this technique that will fix and get through it in the fastest way and get us on our way. So kids really pick up on that stuff. 


00:42:25    Alyssa

Totally. Yeah, we don't empathize with why somebody feels something. We empathize with what they feel. It doesn't matter if you think they should be feeling disappointment over this thing. What matters is that you know what disappointment feels like, and you connect over that that's huge. And so when we're moving towards self-reg tools. So we're teaching kiddos, because essentially one day, they are going to be in a classroom without you there, or they're going to be in a work meeting, or in a partnership or whatever. How are they going to regulate themselves and their emotions so that they can respond instead of react? Right? So so many of these stories that I've said here today are because I have practiced so freaking much of this, where I am like, oh man, I'm working so hard on my ability to regulate in the moment, which is so dang hard, but I'm doing it so that I can respond instead of react. That's my goal for these tiny humans is that they learn, it's totally fine to feel this. And if I can find my calm, then there are there are two paths here. I can either react and fly off the handle and then deal with all of the added stuff that comes with that usually shame and guilt and embarrassment. All those things like, oh, I reacted now in a way that I don't love, or that I knew is socially acceptable or whatever. Now I have more feelings to process, don't have tools to process those either, or I get to choose how I'm going to respond in this moment. And it is wild how early we can start to do this if we are building these toolboxes for kiddos and again. So much of this comes from mirroring, right? But like we are going to enter the situation feeling their energy. So if they're having a spike of cortisol, we're going to spike cortisol. What are we doing to find our calm to then be able to encourage them, to find theirs before we solve the problem? Right? Like I'm not solving a problem with a child who is whining, crying whatever, because they're in the amygdala, and they're not ready to solve a problem. My goal is to help you leave your amygdala, your feelings brain, and come into your prefrontal cortex, your rational brain, so that we can solve this problem together. It doesn't mean it's going to happen right away. That's my goal. And so when we're doing this like, what does is this look like? As we're moving from the infant who we're snuggling to help them find their calm, or we're giving a coping mechanism to like a pacifier or a lovey? How are we moving from that to like, oh, how are we going to find your calm in this moment? So we can solve this together? How are we moving into that self-reg piece? 


00:45:08    Katie

Such a big step, because there's so much empowerment that happens in these moments and so much resilience that's built. And there's many caregivers that have difficulty again, sitting with their own emotion, and then project that onto them in a way that it can be like the the co-regulation phase is often going directly to sensory strategies or the adults wanting to stay really in meshed in the soothing, in a way that the child doesn't really need. And it's setting up this message to the child that is saying, you need me, you need me, And it is this dance between needing and letting go and finding ways that things can work out. It is this dance between recognizing when a child really needs us, or when they're ready to let go. So again, reading their signals, reading their cues, letting them initiate, letting them come to us, creating the space. And then also first building lots and lots of layers of joy and fun and pleasure and interaction, because that really sets the foundation for them to ultimately self-regulate. So we need lots and lots and lots of these really human shared, joy interactions in order to set a foundation to self-regulate, which I think is a piece that is often missed when we're having this conversation about regulation. So when we're thinking about nurturing the brain, it isn't when the child is under stress that the brain is really shifting. So the moments that are nurturing relationship and connection and engagement in others, but also in the world. So in all learning, the moments of joy and fun and silliness and spontaneity, and really the vitality for life, and what that means is happening in the moments where they're feeling their best, and they have a gleam in their eye, which is dear floor time language, which is the model I work with. And that's when the child's brain is lighting up. And all these ways that we want for development and making the connections and setting the foundation for when things are tough or things are harder, and they can pull from these strong, integrated ways of being when things are more difficult, or things are more challenging. So it sets up the trust in the safety and the security that we really need in order to regulate a child when they're in a more stressed state. So if they're not trusting other humans and trusting their environment than trying to co-regulate a child that doesn't feel that foundational safety in their world is really tricky. It takes a lot of time and a lot of process and a lot of helping them experience joy and meaning in a way that they can ultimately feel safe enough to have somebody there to co, regulate them versus reject that. 


00:48:11    Alyssa

I think that's so. So, so important. But like we're not just talking about the hard emotions, but how to have joy and connection with these kiddos. And when we're looking at things like building empathy in humans, we're looking at a four to one positive to every negative thing a child hears about themselves. And I think we're often missing that we're turing and we're responding to these negative things. But we're really missing these points of positivity. And just like, giving that kid who was walking by where I just say, hey, bud, I love you right? Just like connecting with them in these. It doesn't have to be big like trust-building moments. In fact, it often, I think, happens in these really small moments where we say, you know what I have a few minutes. And right now, I would love to just sit on my phone and check out, I'm going to spend five minutes playing with you with my phone away, right? Like, hey, I would love to play with you. I have a couple minutes before. dinner's ready. What would you like to to play? Right? Just like finding moments of connection. 


00:49:13    Katie

Exactly. Yes and daily routines. It's not doesn't have to be this big, exactly time-sensitive thing, although it is helpful. You know, the more the better quantity is important, however, just when they feel seeing in their daily life that's so powerful for setting the foundation for all this. And then when we're thinking about the moments where they're going through the tough stuff, so how to help them work more towards self regulation, I would first and foremost say that it's all about getting them back to positive engagement with life in the world. So anytime we're going to the next step of that triangle, which is reason. So we might say, oh those magnatiles knocked over, that's we're going through allowing the space for them to feel it and release the emotion having a sense of empowerment in our way of being. So it's not this sympathetic tone that we're using like oh this isn't so hard. This will never be over. This happens all the time, not feeding into the sympathetic tones or fixing, but really empowering them and through our presence, recognizing that they can do it, and they can get through this, and we fully trust them to handle the emotion on their own, although we'll be there until they're ready to do that. So helping them create the space to feel it and release it if that's what needs to happen. So sometimes emotional release is just healing and it's either healing or communication. So if it's just healing, or if they're really tired and, you know, just need some space, or have had a rough day, or there's vulnerable transitions going on in life, then they might just need to have more time to feel it and recognizing that, and then problem solving and thinking. I wonder if it would be good if we, I wonder if it would feel better if we play that pillow fight game you like, you know, because you're so mad about that tower breaking like let's pillow fight and get some of this physical energy out. I don't say that to them, but you could ultimately turn into that where it's like, let's figure out a way, almost like we would go for a run to feel better after we've stayed with the emotion, recognized what we're feeling, validated what we're feeling and created space for it, because that's really important. It's not like we're running away from the emotion and trying to numb it. It's we're feeling it and then doing something to get us back to that positive state of mind. So it's disengagement and then re-engagement with that kind of joy. And meaning in life that is the goal with ultimately setting them up to do that on their own. So then maybe down the road. Instead of doing some numbing things, they'll have all these repetitions of getting back to something that works for them. And something that's truly adaptive in 


00:52:00    Alyssa

regulating. Yeah, I love it. You what you really just highlighted there is the coping mechanisms versus coping strategies. We have episode 38 if people want to dive in deeper on that, but the coping mechanism in life are those things that numb and we all have them and how everybody survives. Right? Like you aren't always going to have time to process something right when Rachel was going through chemo. She was like, oh, man, like she's tapping two all her coping strategies. And I was like, sister, you're not going to process this right now, like your life is on the line. It's okay to also tap into some mechanisms to numb this so that you can survive and show up in this world. We're not always a lot of times when we have these big things that are going to take a long time to process death in the family and new transitions. A lot of the times we want to bring in coping strategies to help us process. But the numbing is going to happen sometimes too. But overall, what we want is for kiddos to have strategies which are processing tools. This is the like movement the going for a run. And some of them are preventative, some are things that you're doing on a daily basis like I'm going to exercise, or I'm going to drink enough water. I'm going to get enough sleep to help your system stay regulated, and some you're tapping into in the moment. What do I do when really feeling fear? What do I do to help my body feel safe again? But how do I find that calm? And that's huge. It's so much of the work that we do in this village is like finding that calm. In fact, I have a virtual membership, we meet monthly and do a two-hour live workshop in a different topic every month and May was responding to tantrums to build emotional intelligence. So we went through like, how are we responding in this in the moment to create space, to be validate, to go through coping strategies? And then I do a live Q & A two weeks later, and a mom came, and she's like, all right, things are going well, but now my three-year-olds yelling, no calm, mama. And I was like, oh, great. She's telling you, I'm not ready to tap into that strategy. I still need to feel this right. Like I'm still expressing this. It's like when somebody tries to stop me from crying like, please go. This is what my body needs to do right now. When I'm done, I will tap into a coping strategy to find my calm. I'm not going to cry for the rest of my life. I'm not going to feel sad for the rest of my life. And I know that now, because I know I have a toolbox to move through it, and that's what I want for these kids. Not that we're trying to make that tantrum stop, or that we're trying to make them cry in our timeline, because it's annoying and inconvenient, because it is, but that we are holding space and saying, you know what? I will be in the kitchen if you need a hug or the if they still need space to feel, and you need to walk away from it. That's okay, too, that you can let them know where you'll be if they need some co-regulation and some support through this. But you can take space to take care of yourself through this too, so that you don't try and brush them through this and get to problem solving. Well, I love this. This is I'm fired up. 


00:54:56    Katie

Me too, me too. Like, how do we stay in today and accept the things that come up and as part of life and work through it together versus all that other stuff that will only go to at times, but for it's our default so we can do some work. 


00:55:11    Alyssa

Yeah, for sure, for sure. And to be real that it's going to be inconvenient. Annoying, right? Like kids aren't like is now a convenient time for me to throw a tantrum. It's now convenient for you. It's never going to happen that way. And part of it is accepting that for ourselves, that there are going to be things that come into our day every single day that are inconvenient, because kids are learning these skills still. 


00:55:37    Alyssa

Alright, thank you so much for hanging out with me and diving into this. I love it, and I could get nerdy on this stuff forever. Where can people connect with you and continue to learn from you and walk alongside you? 


00:55:50    Katie

Thank you so much, Alyssa. This has been so fun, and I'm honored to be on this podcast with you all, you can find me on Instagram at ThrivingLittles, or my website is So there you can find my email and reach out to me about consults. I have lots and lots of information about this stuff on Instagram or Facebook. So check me out there!


00:56:16    Alyssa

Sweet. Thank you so much, Katie, I hope that you have a lovely day. 


00:56:19    Katie

You too. 


00:56:20    Alyssa



00:56:24    Alyssa

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