Psychological health is measured in terms of balance: it’s a matter of staying within the normal range of emotional reactions to life’s situations. So how does the brain of a normally functioning person maintain this delicate balance? What protects us from sliding off into a ditch every time we hit a bump in the road? It’s something called regulation.
People who can stay regulated have these three basic abilities:
- The ability to maintain an emotionally balanced state.
- The ability to be solid enough emotionally that they aren’t easily knocked off balance.
- When they are knocked off balance, the ability to find their way back to emotional stability within a reasonable amount of time.
This ability for regulating our emotions and reactions to life’s situations develops in three stages:
- Other-regulation (birth to two years of age): At this stage, a child is not able to self-regulate. He must have another person (mother, father, caregiver) to do the regulating for him.
- Co-regulation (two years old to late teens): During this phase, your child knows how to regulate herself but still needs another person to help her regain her balance when thrown off-kilter.
- Self-regulation (usually not fully developed until late teen years or young adulthood): That’s right, we don’t full develop this skill until the late teen years. At this stage, teens know how to self-regulate andcan maintain emotional balance, except in extremely intense situations where it would be normal for anyone to need another person’s assistance.
How to Help Your Child Develop Self-Regulation
The following things help children develop the ability to regulate their emotions:
- An atmosphere of failure-free playfulness
- An atmosphere of joyfulness
- Physical activity, especially of the unstructured kind
- Pervasive, regular, daily routines
- Opportunities to relate with other human beings (not just peers)
- Age-appropriate challenges