top of page

Applying Parental Co-Regulation / episode 26 show notes

Updated: Mar 27, 2020


First, understand that when your child is upset, they have experienced (neurocepted) a danger cue and dropped down their polyvagal ladder into a defensive state.This doesn’t mean actual danger, it’s likely to be not getting what they want. Set aside the judgment though, it’s not about us

  • Not getting the toy from McDonald’s is meaningless to us, but for them it’s a real trigger

  • This can be really difficult for parents to do

Very likely your child may not know what the trigger is. Parents always want to ask “why” and “what happened?” Parents want to solve the problem, not necessarily understand the problem. This stems from wanting to make our kids’ lives better, yes. But also to alleviate our own state shift.

Your state vs your empathy

These don’t always go hand in hand. Tap into your empathy - an attunement to your child’s pain, which consequently means a shift of focus AWAY from your own concerns.

This is different from our own state shift misattunement, like if a kid needs a hug, but that repulses us. The repulsion is our own thing and a misattunement to the child’s state.

But we can’t react simply from empathy.

Your empathy vs your compassion

After tapping into your empathy, then tap into your compassion for your child. Compassion is empathy plus your desire to help - you want to help, while also understanding. This is different than solving the problem which focuses on facts and solution. Empathy is understanding the emotional impact of the problem. Compassion is working with your child to resolve the problem while honoring the emotional impact.

Face-to-face interaction

  • In a safe environment

  • Eye contact is major - Do not force on their end, but offer on your own

  • Smiles are important, but not fake and not constant

  • Vocal prosody is important - Not commanding and not fake! This can sound sarcastic.


Your child’s self-regulation is built on your co-regulation, but you need to be self-regulated first. A big piece of this is to disengage from your own “stuff.” We’ve mentioned during this series that parents are human too, which means…

  • We have our own danger cues

  • We may or may not have learned effective co-regulation in our own childhood

  • Our placement on the polyvagal ladder may not be Safe & Social all the time, but to be at our best as parents, we need to be able to access that state

This means that, when we are actively parenting, we MUST disengage with our own stuff, our own baggage. It doesn’t go away! We just set it aside while we prioritize the needs of our children in that moment. This is really difficult to do! But, the more you practice it, the easier it becomes.

Take full breaths and really slow down, self-regulate. Your kids will pick up on this and it may keep you in control of yourself.

Combine your state awareness to your empathy to your compassion

Example: child is up at 2am after waking up from a nightmare. Parent wakes up very irritated. They recognize they’re irritated and they are in a fight state with an impulse to yell and command the child back to bed. The parent consciously sets that aside, deciding it’s best to not say anything and to take a deep breath. After doing so, they allow themselves to become more attuned to their child and feel empathy. They tap into their own feelings of waking up from nightmares and maybe the larger context of their life. The parent listens to the child empathetically, but also brings their compassion in. They hold the child, listening with eye crinkles and give them affection, making eye contact and smiling, reassuring the child. They bring the child back to bed with affection and reassurance.


bottom of page