A young child is so frustrated and overwhelmed that she just hit her big sister.
As the adult responsible for managing this moment, can we comfort and protect one child while disciplining and guiding the other? And can we do this without shaming or hurting the child who did the hurting?
The answer to both questions is yes, but how?
- We do this with tools and support.
- We do this when we model the skills we want to teach.
- We do this via coregulation.
Homeschooling mom of two, Angela, shows us what this looks like in the short video below when one hits the other. Here's what happened in Angela's own words:
"My daughter Lila spent a long time trying to make a baking hat out of paper. She became frustrated with the results and abandoned it, deciding she was ready to start baking instead.
But she clearly wasn’t over her big feelings — pushing her sister who was washing hands first, and yelling at both of us."
It wasn’t really about washing hands. It was about her frustration and disappointment from before.
I gently but firmly reminded her that I understood that she was frustrated about the hat but that I could not let her hurt her sister’s body.
Giant meltdown. Lila began screaming and hanging on to my body while simultaneously pushing me away.
I’ve learned that when Lila is upset, she wants to be close but she doesn’t want to be held. So I moved away a bit and sat on a stepstool, suggested a calming strategy, and told her I would be available when she was ready.
She continued to cry for a couple of minutes longer, then bravely began to count — it is so brave to decide to change your own feelings right in the middle of some tough ones!
You can hear her voice gradually get calmer as she counted. Lila counted all the way to 30, then lifted up her finger to “blow out a candle”:
I asked if she was ready for a hug, and she climbed into my lap to accept the connection. All of this is the result of our work with Generation Mindful’s Time-In Toolkit, which I couldn’t recommend more." - Angela (@AngelaMomtessori)
This is coregulation.
- dismissing (going away or putting the child away/in time-out)
- threatening, (yelling, hitting, shaming)
- or rescuing (moving in to solve the frustration instead of allowing her child her experience)
...Angela is teaching her child how to gain control over her body and to manage her emotions.
Regulation involves one person staying present for another through a challenging experience such that the stressed individual experiences greater self-awareness.
Regulation involves connection --- seeing, and being seen.
What regulation does NOT involve is being perfect.
We, all of us make mistakes, and we can learn from them. (I'll take present over perfect all day long.)
So the next time you hear whining or the sounds of anger, frustration, sadness, or overwhelm, see if you can give coregulation a chance.
Pause. Breathe. Allow for the feelings. Hold to your boundaries. Connect before you correct.
With tools and support, we really can love our way through the hard moments.
Regulation is a skill, so let's teach it.
By Suzanne Tucker, Founder of Generation Mindful creating tools, toys, and programs that nurturing emotional intelligence by connecting the generations playfully.
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