How Can I Be a Purposeful Parent? 5 Co-Regulation Strategies

July is Purposeful Parenting Month, so today, we’re highlighting the importance of intentional parenting practices. Purposeful parenting is a useful term in child and family therapy because these practices will help you to support your child's emotional and developmental well-being.

In this blog, we'll be focusing on co-regulation, a cornerstone of purposeful parenting. But what exactly is Purposeful Parenting Month, and how can co-regulation strategies help you build stronger connections with your child?

Why we celebrate Purposeful Parenting Month

Being a parent is so much more than yes, no’s, and maybe so’s. As a parent, you are managing so much more than behavior, schedules, and constant growth—but it might feel overwhelming when you try to categorize it all into the hows and whys of your parenting strategies.

Purposeful Parenting Month is a dedicated time to celebrate and promote the principles of intentional and mindful parenting. Each July, this initiative aims to highlight the importance of being present, engaged, and thoughtful in our interactions with our children. The focus is on learning skills and tools that help you as a parent to support your child in making deliberate choices. Purposeful parenting, and the co-regulation strategies it teaches you, can foster healthy emotional and behavioral development, strengthen family bonds, and create a nurturing environment where children can thrive.

What is co-regulation and why is it important?

Co-regulation is, at its core, a fancy term for a skill that's actually quite natural: helping your child manage their emotions and behaviors through supportive interactions in which you model how you regulate your emotions (this is called self-regulation).  

Think of it as emotional scaffolding, where you support your child in building their self-regulation skills over time. It’s a key aspect of purposeful parenting, ensuring kids feel understood and supported. Co-regulation is vital because emotions are big, and can be difficult to understand- much less manage on your own (I see you, Inside Out 2!) By modeling emotional control and providing a safe space for expression, parents help children develop the ability to self-regulate. This leads to more emotionally resilient children and stronger parent-child bonds.

Think about it like this: when a baby cries, a parent instinctively soothes them. That's co-regulation in action! It's a back-and-forth where you, as the caregiver, help your child navigate their big emotions and develop their own emotional regulation skills.

But how do we keep co-regulation going as our children grow older and their meltdowns become more complex?

5 co-regulation strategies to help you be a Purposeful Parent

Even when you know and logically understand how something might make parenting feel easier or, yes, more purposeful, it can be difficult to navigate. To support you with this, we’re shining a light on some practical skills that can enhance your parenting journey.

By incorporating these co-regulation strategies, you can build a stronger, more resilient relationship with your child, fostering a nurturing environment where they can thrive.

1. Be a Calm Anchor: Imagine yourself as a sturdy tree during a storm. When things get emotional, your child becomes the wind, pushing, pulling, and bending the tree of your strength in the gale of their feelings. Instead of moving with the force of their emotional state, try remaining responsive but unwavering. By staying calm and collected (taking a deep breath, offering a hug- whatever works for your kiddo), you provide a sense of security that helps them weather the emotional storm.

2. Name it to Tame it: Help your child understand what they're feeling by putting it into words. Saying "I see you're feeling frustrated right now," or "It seems like you're really disappointed" acknowledges their emotions and validates their experience. Many children respond well when emotions they don’t understand relate to things in their lives that they do know how to navigate. Using books or visual cues from familiar reference points can help you to identify language for emotions.

3. Offer Choices, Not Ultimatums: During meltdowns, ultimatums often escalate things. To a tumultuous mind, they feel like a threat. Using harsh language and immovable consequences for emotions your child may not feel they can control may make them feel unsafe, and lead to shut down. Instead, offer choices that empower your child and give them a sense of control. "Would you like to take some deep breaths with me, or do you need a minute on your own?"

4. Focus on Solutions, Not Blame: Arguments and big feelings happen, no matter how you parent. When the dust settles, talk about what happened. Instead of focusing on blame, ask questions that encourage your child to reflect, and if you can, let them see you reflecting too! Phrases like: "What do you think would have helped you calm down sooner?"  and “Can you help me brainstorm other ways to tell you how I’m feeling?” may help you to do this together. This fosters problem-solving skills and emotional awareness.

5. Celebrate the Wins, Big and Small! Hey! You’re all working really hard at this whole feelings thing, and it’s an ongoing process. Acknowledge your child's efforts to manage their emotions, even the small victories. "I saw how you took a deep breath before talking about what made you upset. That's awesome!" This positive reinforcement encourages them to continue using healthy coping mechanisms.

Purposeful Parenting Month might be a set time, but developing healthy parenting skills and working on co-regulation will take longer. It’s a journey and one you can take with your child no matter their age or stage. There will be ups and downs, but by incorporating these tips, you'll be well on your way to fostering a strong, supportive relationship with your child.

Looking for more personalized guidance on co-regulation strategies? Our team at Pure Health Center in Chicago has specialist support available to you, in Child and Family Therapy, as well as individual therapy, play therapy, and parenting support. Reach out today to learn more.

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