Co-regulation

The say the eyes are the window to the soul, but I’d have tosay they’re the mirror.

Ever heard of mirror neurons? They’re interesting little guys.I’ve heard there are a few versions of the story of how they discovered theseneurons, but basically, they were studying monkeys and their brain activity.During a break, one monkey was eating a banana and the researchers could seecertain regions of the brain light up. What was interesting was that the brainof the other monkey lit up in the same way…but monkey #2 wasn’t eating abanana—it was watching.

Here’s what it means: we’re wired to connect. We are wiredto understand the internal state of the other person in our midst. Yes, there’san evolutionary component because to be able to read a room and be able tosense danger is really valuable, but mirror neurons are more than an alarmsystem. It’s a way of letting us feel what others are feeling. I get tofeel my friend’s joy of telling me she’s pregnant. I get to feel the sadnessand despair of the mom who confesses she knew the day of her wedding that shewas marrying the wrong man. I get to feel loved and not just know it inmy head.

Mirror neurons are a fickle friend, though. Have you evertried to calm your child who’s having an absolute end-of-the-world meltdownwhile also being panicked about everyone at the grocery store looking at you?Or maybe you’re completely frustrated with the fits and you’ve lost allpatience? Or how about this one: have you ever threatened some consequence, butyou didn’t actually mean it and your kid called your bluff? They smell fear.They feel your weakness. They’re like horses.

So, say what you mean and mean what you say. On top of that,use your calm mirror neurons when your kid is having a hard time emotionally. Calmbrains calm brains. Once they’re calm, then you talk about what happened.Ask them what emotion they felt, when did things go wrong, what could they dodifferently next time, what’s the lesson you want to teach them, and how canthey repair the damage that’s been done?

Before you have that very important conversation, though,you have to get their brain to calm down. Even if your kid is nine, rememberwhat it was like to sooth an infant or toddler. You rocked them, gazed at them,cooed at them. It’s called co-regulation. Sometimes, even as kids age, theystill need that help regulating. Many kids with early life trauma are high needfor co-regulation. But rest assured that you’re not babying them and keepingthem from growing up. You’re providing what they need in that moment and aslong as you do that, they’ll need co-regulation less and less. They’ll catch updevelopmentally. Your kid who struggles with overwhelming emotions, really doesneed you. He or she needs your calm, compassionate brain. They’re in distress.When you help them calm down, you’re teaching them they can count on others…evenon their worst day.

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