12 - 48 Months

Co-regulating emotions with your toddler

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“Co-regulation is really just the process of being present with another person and helping them regulate and get to a more balanced state.”

Mr. Chazz Lewis, Educational specialist, @MrChazz

We’ve all been there: Witnessing the big emotions that roll in from the left field and feeling ill prepared for the storm that follows. It can be the wrong utensil, the wrong lovey, or just the wrong side of the bed. Toddlers are excellent at showing emotions but not yet skilled at expressing them, that is why they need our help naming and understanding their feelings.

On this episode of My New Life, Chazz Lewis, popularly known as Mr. Chazz, walks us through how to co-regulate and offers tips on how to best communicate what the child is feeling in these dysregulated situations. He is an educational specialist who oversees 9 preschools.

Key Takeaways:

[1:44] What is the concept of co-regulation?

[4:45] Mr. Chazz gives some insight into what this co-regulation moment looks like.

[7:54] A story about a frustrated 3-year-old girl who was not heard beautifully illustrates this process.

[17:46] Should parents ask for children to apologize or even force an apology?

[22:06] What does shame specifically look like?


What is co-regulation and dysregulation?

Jessica: We tend to use some big words when it comes to managing our little people. What is this concept of co-regulation? 

Mr. Chazz: Yeah, co-regulation. I’m going to just try to put things as simply as possible, so it’s accessible to everyone. And co-regulation is really just the process of being present with another person and helping them regulate and get to a more balanced state. I think about regulation’s balance. And when you’re regulated, you’re balanced. You feel balanced, regulation, you feel good about what you’re doing for your situation. And the thing about it is, we’re not always supposed to be regulated.

Dysregulation is a part of the game, it’s a part of the process. I think about it like scales; I imagine the child who is learning about balance and weight, almost kind of the same way we learn about regulation and dysregulation, how to regulate. So what happens? We put a couple counting bears on one side, and they see the scale, one side go up, I say, “Okay, that’s dysregulation, it dis-regulates.” Now, that’s a cue from your body telling you, “Okay, you’re dysregulated, there’s something you need to do here, there’s something that we need to do to kind of get back to regulation.” Our body is always trying to get us back to regulation. But dysregulation, again, is a part of the process. So what do you do? You put a few more counting bears on the other side, which is… In the adult situation of dysregulation maybe it is… Let’s do you are with your mother-in-law, that’s a classic one that we’ll do.

And they are… They’re saying something to you, or they’re saying something about you or about your children, and it is getting you a little frustrated. You are becoming dysregulated. And that is just a signal from your body saying, “Hey, something’s not right here. Don’t feel right about this.” There’s something that we need to do here, whether it’s take a breather, whether it is respond respectfully, whether it is leaving. It’s your body, dysregulation is your body saying, “Hey, something needs to happen here.” And your body is not necessarily going to tell you the most pro-social way to get back to regulation, but it will likely give you some kind of way to move closer to regulation and it might not be in a way that is healthy for other people, or even healthy for you. So what we have to do as adults and what we have to teach children to do is how to get back to balance, how to get back to regulation in a healthy pro-social way that’s not harming yourself and not harming someone else. Yes, when you’re dysregulated, your mother-in-law says that thing, or as a child, you… someone takes your toy. When you’re dysregulated, your body might tell you to get up and hit or yell or scream at.

And that will make you feel better, it will make you feel a little bit more balanced in the moment, and that’s why we’re inclined to do it, and that’s why you want to do it, and that’s why young children bite and hit, and that’s why we get amped up and we yell and hit, slam things on the ground or whatever. But there are better ways to get back to a regulation and that’s what we have to practice and teach our children. And for young children, bringing it back to co-regulation, full circle, for young children, young children learn how to regulate through co-regulation. They really need a lot of co-regulation. They need an adult who is able to self-regulate, to go in and be present with the child and help them regulate and get back to regulation in healthy ways.

How to handle hitting

Jessica: You use this example of this child that’s hitting, can you give us a little bit more insight into what this co-regulation moment looks like? So I understand and I loved how you painted the picture of this child, feeling so frustrated and wanting to get this other toy from this other child and going to hit them and that actually for a moment makes them feel better. What should a parent or a teacher in this moment do? What do you do when you see this brewing, and how do you intervene and what does co-regulation really look like? Give me the words and the example of what this looks like in that situation.

Mr. Chazz: Yeah, so the first thing you want to do, as a lot of people are aware of, is you want to check on the child who is hurt first, you want to make sure that the child is okay. But the first thing you really want to after you check on the child, you want to get really curious about why it happened.

You don’t want to go immediately to just berating the child and, “How could you do this, I told you a thousand times, 100 times, you know hands are not for hitting,” you don’t want to just come at the child, because then, when you do that, it’s going to create even more of a fight or flight response if the child wasn’t already in fight or flight, and that’s going to shut down the part of the brain that they need to actually access the logic and reasoning that they need to problem solve, to work through, to talk about what to do differently, to communicate to you why may have actually hit or did the thing.

And so a lot of times, we’ll come in hot and be like, “I told you 100 times,” and we never even figure out why it happened. If, let’s say, the child is hitting because someone, the other child took their toy. What we want to do is to teach the child to get their toy back without hitting, with words or gestures, and if they’re too young to… They don’t have any words, not even a “stop”, then it’s going to be a lot of redirection that’s happening and a lot of modeling that’s happening.

Another thing that I will do in these moments where the hitting is happening is I will…I will point out and notice the effect it had on the other child. And notice, like, look at the cues. They’re upset, they’re crying, their tears are running down their face, they’re on the ground, they’re hurt. Just so that the other child is learning, the child who hit, is starting to recognize the… Really, the consequences of their actions, because that’s still something that they’re learning too, and learning how to read other people’s facial expressions and what they mean, and how to help, like what those cues mean.

How to co-regulate

Jessica: I remember seeing on your account a story… You were telling a story about how all of these children were really interested in the cicadas that were out, and this little girl really wanted to tell a story about butterflies. And she was speaking louder and louder and wanted people to listen to her important story about butterflies. And finally, she just yelled at these kids and stormed away, and you saw this a big success moment. Can you talk to me about why that is success that this little girl is yelling at these other kids? And then, how you were able to connect with her? 

Mr. Chazz: Yeah, this was a three-year-old. And at two, three, four, they’re really learning… Words are so new to them… When they do get frustrated and overwhelmed and dysregulated, and things aren’t going their way, one way that they try to get things to go their way is through a physical means, it’s through hitting or shoving or grabbing, because it works and it’s within their skill level. That’s something that they learn to do when they’re very young. Now, using words when things aren’t going their way, when they’re really emotional, that’s a really tough thing to do. And I saw how she was getting amped up and getting more and more flustered and frustrated as she was trying to talk to her friends who were just enamored with the cicadas.

And years ago, it might have been something where I might have intervened and said, “Hey, she’s trying to tell you guys something. She’s trying to talk to you guys, so why don’t you guys listen?” But I didn’t, because if I did, I would’ve taken away the opportunity for the child to do what she did, which was express how she was feeling, and instead of hitting or trying lashing out, she went and removed herself from the situation, and she stomped away, which again, is her trying to get back to regulation. Stomping her feet is a way to get closer to that balance. When you’re upset, if you stomp your feet, you can feel the feelings… You’re getting out the feelings instead of holding them in.

So, that’s her self-regulating, and I would’ve taken that opportunity away if I would have dictated how that situation would happen, instead of allowing the natural consequence and course of things to take its course. So, she went and she stomped off. And I’m observing because, while I’m allowing her to self-regulate and have her moment, I’m still watching. I was looking, almost like a double Dutch thing, “When is the right time for me to jump in here to actually be of help?”

And when she stopped walking around, which again, self-regulating, and she sat down and she went into herself… She put her knees up. I wish you guys could see me right now, but she put her knees up and she put her head on her knees, and she was curled in the corner, and that was something that I recognized, “Okay, now it’s time for me to intervene, because she’s no longer practicing self-regulation. She’s, at this point, wallowing in her hurt.” And when we talk about trauma… Not to say that this was a traumatic event, but what makes a traumatic event is not so much… What makes the trauma isn’t so much the event, it is how the event is processed. And people who are alone and aren’t able to process it with someone or they don’t have the skills or the understanding to process it themselves, that’s when the trauma comes up, and that’s when the hurt really sticks. And that’s not healthy.

So, at this point, I intervene and I start to notice her feeling. And I said, “You seem pretty frustrated right now.” And she responded to me, “Argh.” And I’m like, “Okay, Mr… “ And I’m thinking to myself like, “Okay, yeah, Mr. Chazz, you didn’t do the thing that… “ You only have to do the thing that you tell other people to do. Remember, you got to talk about the source of the emotion too just not validate it, but the source of the emotion. Make her feel seen, make her feel heard. So, I kind of restate it what I was saying, like, “You seem really mad.” I changed the word to mad because I recognized frustrated wasn’t… May not have been a word on her vocabulary. So, it’s not something that connected with her.

I said, “You seem mad because no one was listening to you.” And then at that moment, like her whole body language and facial expression shifted, and she lifted her head up, and she looked at me. And then she started to talk about how they weren’t listening to her. And she was getting it out. I was listening as, you know, periodically, I was reflecting back what she was saying and reflecting back her emotions. And you can kind of start to see, as I was talking, she started to stand up. And she started to walk around and then she started to get back a little bit more into kind of self-regulating with my co-regulation.

And she had mentioned, she was like, “and no one listened to me.” She said it again. And I said, “Well, I’ll listen to you.” And that was like my kind of problem solving moment for her of just, “Hey, yeah, they weren’t listening to you. But guess what? There are other people who may listen to you. Maybe that group of people, they were interested in something else at the time.”

I threw in a little bit of perspective, taking a little bit of like, “Yeah, they were really… Yeah, you really wanted them to listen to your story about the baby butterfly. But they were really excited about the cicadas and I don’t think they’ve ever seen cicadas before, this is something that’s really new to them.” And I added a little bit of that in there because, again, that perspective taking is so important. And just by us modeling it and noticing it and taking their perspective and taking other people’s perspective, it’s slowly but surely wiring their brain to do the same. So, not only was I able to do a little bit of, you know, a lot of co-regulation, but also I was able to practice a little bit of empathy and perspective taking.

All of these things are tools that we can practice as adults. And they’re not necessarily something… You don’t necessarily have to use every tool and try to check off every box in every interaction. But there are tools on your tool belt that you get better at using and knowing when to use each tools. I shared, even in that story, even someone who practices and preaches and talks about it, I don’t always use the tools perfectly. And that’s okay. But I reflect and I try to improve, improve, improve. And if we make mistakes, that’s okay.

Jessica: There’s so much that’s powerful in that story. And I think it’s really helpful to hear it come to life in this example. And I think for me what I also took away which I don’t know that was a big emphasis in what you were saying, but really the fact that she was yelling at these other kids and stomping away, in some cases, we might say, “Stop, stop yelling. Don’t yell at these other kids.” And I have a situation with my child Thatcher who really struggles with regulation and he… We’ve moved into him screaming and yelling is actually is really progress for him, because he’s not hitting and he’s not taking out the aggression physically. And so, it’s all these stages and I think it’s so helpful to have you kind of illuminate that for us and help us see that the child needs… That they are seeking this kind of regulation moment inside of themselves. And it can come out in ways that are not acceptable to us adults, but that we need to be patient with them and help them along that path of from the physical aggression to maybe the yelling, to then maybe separating themselves. She did a lot of these things and it’s a congratulations moment, right? It’s success for her that she didn’t hit these other children or bite them or do something else that was another way of regulating.

Mr. Chazz: Yeah, and Jessica, you said something I want to highlight like it’s the stages, right? And it is… Again, just like for us as teachers, as parents, as caregivers, and us not being perfect, and always the way that we respond the way that we do things, and we’re trying to learn and get better and we need that space to get better, children need that same thing.

It’s about practicing those skills. And if we just cut them off when they’re young, and just say, “The way you’re doing it is wrong and you’re not allowed to express yourself in that way,” when they’re young and they don’t have the skills to do what we would like them to do as adults, then it’s likely that they’re not going to be able to go through those stages because we cut them off in those beginning stages when they were trying to learn.

Try not to force apologies

Jessica: And so another topic for parents is this question about an apology. Say, “Oh my gosh, you hit that child. You need to say, I’m sorry. You need to apologize.” Where do you come down on asking for this apology or even forcing an apology? 

Mr. Chazz: So I will say, and I will tell people that we should very much try to avoid forcing apologies because it’s not a real apology. If it’s forced, it’s not a real apology. And when we do that… And I think we do it with the best of intentions. We’re trying to teach empathy and perspective taking, so I need to teach you that you say sorry, and there’s no if ands about it. But what that happens… What the effect of that is that we taint and pollute the idea of an apology. And children start to think, and also there are a lot of adults who think this way too, likely because this was the message they received as children, that when you make a mistake or you hurt someone, that if you apologize, your mistake is erased and you just apologize and the other person can me mad and just say you’re sorry. And it’s empty…

Instead of really practicing the skill of reflecting and thinking like, “Am I actually sorry for this? What was the effect on… What was the effect of my actions on the other person?” And when we’re… When we come in, and we’re like, “Say you’re sorry, say you’re sorry, say you’re sorry”, especially when we’re really forcing it, the focus is no longer on, “How can I generally and authentically repair this relationship? How do I feel about what happened?” The focus is on, “You’re wrong, so you need to do this thing that I’m telling you to do to make it better, and that’s all you need to do.” And a lot of times it ends there as opposed to talking, like helping them process what happened, how the other person felt… And you can encourage an apology.

Consider encouraging apologies

That’s the other thing I want to make clear too, like I’m fully on board and fully support encouraging apologies. And reminders of just, “Hey, is there something that you want to say? You really hurt Susan when you pushed her to get in front of the line. And look, she’s on the floor and she’s crying, she’s hurt. Is there something you want to do? Is there something you want to say to make it better?” And then it gives them an opportunity. Now they have an opportunity to think, “Huh, they are on the ground. She is hurt. What can I do?”

Maybe they don’t know, and you can give them some suggestions if they’re… Especially if they’re really young, you haven’t gone through the process very often, you can give them some suggestions like, “You could help her up. You could apologize and say you’re sorry. You could write a picture for her. You could give her a hug. You could ask her to play with you. You can bring her to the front of the line. You can let her go in front of you.” There’s so many different ways to repair that relationship that is so much more authentic and genuine. And when we do that, we are helping them think about how to repair relationships in that way. And anyone who has been in a relationship where they’ve been hurt, I think can attest to the importance of knowing how to repair a relationship.

Understanding shame vs guilt

Jessica: I don’t want to intentionally shame my little children. But I do think I do it anyway, sometimes. And I think that what would help me to be more self aware is have you explain for all of us, what does shame specifically look like? Let’s imagine I have a two or three-year-old, what kinds of examples can you give us parents that help us understand so we can see ourselves a little bit in a different light? 

Mr. Chazz: Yeah. So I think, first thing I want to say when talking about shame is kind of identifying what shame is and kind of talk about the difference between shame and guilt. Because we also, sometimes we will shame ourselves. And I don’t want you to shame yourself, or shaming, but it’s okay to be guilty for actions that you’ve taken in the past and that can be helped, right? Guilt is focusing on the action like, “Oh, man, I didn’t… Forgot to pack the lunch. I can do better tomorrow,” right? Guilt is focused on the action of something that we may have… Did or did not do. And that’s recoverable. Because it’s like, “Hey, I can take different actions next time. I can improve my actions, I can change my actions.” Shame is focused on who you are as a person, right? And which is not so changeable like our actions are, so a lot of times we shame ourselves, we just get into this cycle of just, “I’m bad mom,” and then, we start to kind of take on the, “What’s the point of even trying, because I’m just… I am this way,” right? 

As opposed to the guilt, is like, “I yelled, yesterday. I shamed yesterday, I got a little… I got overwhelmed, and I yelled, and that was a little out of character for me. And that’s not who I am. I reacted that way because of the emotions I was feeling and I can do better next time. I can practice self regulation. I can say some mantras in my head. And I can have a better different response. I can follow accounts, I can listen to this podcast, and I can learn better ways. I am a person who is having a hard time right now, I’m a good person who’s having a hard time.” Now with kids it’s, the same thing. One kind of mantra that I love that I will even use for myself, is your children aren’t giving you a hard time, they’re having a hard time. It’s one of my favorite ones to say to myself and to share with other people.

When we say, “Children act out,” right? “Children, they’re acting out.” Let’s finish that sentence. They’re acting out of character. With that, if… Using the whole sentence, the implication is there that their character, they’re inherently good. They’re a good person, but in this moment, they’re acting out of character. Now let’s explore why they’re acting out of character, and let’s work on that. Just like I said with the adults and the parents, and the, let’s work on self-regulation and do mantras, and responding differently, with the child, let’s work on expressing how they’re feeling, and self-regulation techniques for them, and maybe setting up the environment so that they can be successful in it, instead of just shaming saying, “They’re a bad kid,” because they’re acting out of character right now. Let’s figure out what’s causing them to act out of character and help them stay in character.

Jessica: I love that. This is really, really helpful. Mr. Chazz, it has been such a pleasure having you with us today. Thank you so much.

Mr. Chazz: Yeah. Well, I have enjoyed this conversation. This has been really fun for me. I love sharing my ideas and talking about these ideas, and helping, and reaching people. And if anyone… Anyone listening to this, I know you’re going to follow me. I’ve got some great things planned for the future. And I’m excited to be here for you on your journey.

You can find more guidance from Mr. Chazz on Patreon at MrChazz. You can also find him on TikTok at MrChazz MrChazz. You can find more tips on Lovevery’s blog, Here with you.


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Posted in: 12 - 48 Months, 18 - 48 Months+, Social Emotional, Child Development, Behavior, Parenting

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