Self-Regulation vs Co-Regulation: What You Need to Know - Stanfield


Self-Regulation vs Co-Regulation: What You Need to Know

We all know that our students’ success goes beyond knowledge and skills. In order for them to truly thrive, they must also have the ability to self-regulate and co-regulate their emotions, behavior, and learning. 

But what exactly do these terms mean, and why are they so important? 

In this post, our goal is to give you a solid understanding of self-regulation vs co-regulation. By the end of this article, you’ll not only know what these terms mean, but you’ll also be armed with the knowledge to apply them in your classroom in more meaningful, long-lasting ways. 

Let’s get started!

What is the Difference Between Self Regulation and Co-Regulation?

Self-Regulation vs Co-Regulation

Let’s start with self-regulation. This is when an individual is able to control their own behavior in order to adapt to their environment. 

According to a study published in the Journal of Education and Health Promotion, students who exhibit high levels of self-regulation are more likely to achieve academic success than those who do not. In fact, the study found that self-regulation skills are a better predictor of academic success than IQ scores.

Now, let’s move on to co-regulation. This is when two or more people work together to achieve a calm, regulated state. This can happen between adults and children, or between children themselves.

For example, a teacher and a student might co-regulate by taking deep breaths together or working on a calming activity during a challenging moment. 

Co-regulation is a critical skill for young children to learn because it helps them develop the ability to regulate their own behavior in the future.

As an educator, you are responsible for helping students develop these skills, so it’s important to understand how they work. By providing opportunities for students to practice both self-regulation and co-regulation, you can help them develop the skills they need to be successful in school and in life.

Breaking Down Self-Regulation

Self-Regulation vs Co-Regulation

Self-regulation is, again, a critical developmental milestone for kids. It’s essentially just the ability to control our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. 

There are a few types of self-regulation skills that kids learn as they get older. Emotional self-regulation is where it all starts. It’s how we learn to recognize and manage our emotions. 

For example, when little Susie gets frustrated because she can’t complete a difficult puzzle, she might start to feel angry or upset. But if she’s learned emotional self-regulation, she can take a moment to recognize those feelings and figure out a way to calm down and try again. 

Behavioral self-regulation, on the other hand, is all about controlling our actions. So even though Susie might be feeling frustrated and angry, she knows that throwing the puzzle across the room isn’t the best way to deal with those emotions. Instead, she can take a deep breath and try again. 

And finally, there’s cognitive self-regulation – the most complicated and last to develop. This is where kids learn to plan and use appropriate responses – it’s the most advanced of all regulation skills. Think about a time when you’ve really had to weigh your options and think about the best course of action. Cognitive self-regulation is basically that, but on a child-sized scale. 

Each child will develop these skills at different rates. So while one little one might be a self-regulation superstar, another might struggle a bit more. As educators, it’s our job to recognize where each child is at and help them along their self-regulation journey. 

However, teaching these skills is key. They’re not innate. But children with strong self-regulation skills are more likely to do better in school, have better relationships with their peers, and even have better mental health outcomes later in life. 

How Co-Regulation Can Help Kids Learn to Self-Regulate

Self-Regulation vs Co-Regulation

Co-regulation is a fancy term for two people working together to reach a calm state. 

For kids, this usually means a parent or teacher helping them to regulate their emotions until they can do it on their own. It’s kind of like holding their hand while they cross the street – you don’t want to do it for them forever, but you want to make sure they’re safe until they’re ready to do it on their own.

By watching someone else regulate their emotions, kids can learn what works and what doesn’t. And since co-regulation usually happens in a calm, supportive environment, it can help reduce stress and anxiety for both the child and the adult.

Children who experience co-regulation have better self-regulation skills than those who haven’t. And since self-regulation is linked to academic success, co-regulation can actually help kids do better in school, too. 

Tips for Developing Regulation Skills in Students

Self-Regulation vs Co-Regulation

The good news is, developing regulation skills in students doesn’t have to be a daunting task. By implementing a few strategies, you can make it an active and ongoing process that is both fun and effective.

1. Make it an Active, Ongoing Process

Regulation skills cannot be developed in a day or two. It takes consistent effort and practice. Therefore, it’s important to make it an ongoing process. Incorporate activities that involve self-regulation skills into your daily routine. 

For example, you might take a few minutes of quiet time before beginning your lessons. Or, you can start your day with a mindfulness practice.

2. Play Games Like Simon Says or Red Light, Green Light

Games are a great way to introduce self-regulation skills to students, especially young ones. Simon Says, Red Light, Green Light, and other similar games require students to regulate their impulses and actions. These games also teach students to pay attention and follow instructions – and who doesn’t love that?

3. Model Everything

Children learn best by observing and imitating adults. As an educator, you can model self-regulation skills in your behavior to students. 

For instance, if you get angry or frustrated, take a deep breath and calm yourself down. You can also encourage students to do the same by giving them examples of how self-regulation skills can help them in different situations

Moreover, you can also praise students who show self-regulation skills in any situation. It will boost their confidence and motivate them to demonstrate such behaviors more often.

4. Offer Gentle Reminders and Daily Practice

Developing regulation skills is a gradual process that requires daily practice and reinforcement. Offer gentle reminders to students about using regulation strategies, such as taking deep breaths, using positive self-talk, and seeking support from peers or adults. 

Provide opportunities for students to practice regulation skills in different settings and situations. Use role-playing, games, and simulations to help students learn how to regulate their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively.

5. Be Mindful of What Causes Your Students to Become Dysregulated

Being aware of what triggers dysregulation in your students can help you prevent and manage it effectively. Some common triggers include academic stress, social conflicts, sensory overload, transitions, and unexpected changes. 

Observe your students closely and note their reactions to different situations. When possible, adjust the environment or activity to reduce the triggers or provide support and guidance.

6. Know What Causes Regulation Difficulties in Children

Know that some children may have underlying conditions or experiences that make regulation more challenging. These include trauma, ADHD, autism, anxiety, and other mental health disorders. 

Children with these conditions may need specialized support and interventions to develop regulation skills. Collaborate with parents, caregivers, and mental health professionals to identify and address these needs.

7. Consider Your Body Language, Tone, and Expression

Our body language, tone, and expression can communicate a lot to students. Make sure you are conveying a supportive and positive message with your nonverbal cues. Smile, make eye contact, and try to maintain a calm and approachable demeanor.

8. Give Wait Time 

When students are feeling emotional, it can take them longer to process information and respond. Give them the time they need to gather their thoughts and respond thoughtfully. A few extra seconds of wait time can make a big difference.

9. Practice Deep Breathing

Deep breathing is a simple technique that can help students calm their bodies and minds. Make sure students know how to take deep breaths and encourage them to use this technique as needed.

10. Consider Additional Supports

While most students can benefit drastically from the self-regulation strategies discussed above, know that some students may need additional support. Consider offering counseling services or referring students to mental health professionals who can provide specialized support in addition to the tools you’re already incorporating.

11. Guide Students to Identify and Label Their Emotions

If students don’t know what they are feeling, they won’t be able to regulate their emotions effectively. 

You can guide students to identify and label their emotions by conducting activities such as asking them to use an emotion-words chart or engaging in class discussions about how to recognize emotions.

12. Encourage Positive Self-Talk 

When students are struggling to complete a task, rather than saying “I can’t do this,” encourage them to say “I can’t do this yet, but I will keep trying.” By changing the thought process from negative to positive, students can develop resilience and grit.

Remember: Co-Regulation Builds Self-Regulation Skills

Self-Regulation vs Co-Regulation

So while self-regulation may appear to be the ultimate goal, it is important to recognize that co-regulation is the stepping stone to achieving it. 

When we build strong co-regulation skills in our students, they will be better equipped to regulate their own emotions, behaviors, and thinking in the long run. 

And let’s face it, as educators, we all want to see our students succeed in all aspects of their lives. 

So, let’s prioritize the importance of co-regulation in our classrooms, and watch as our students flourish into confident, self-regulated individuals.

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