Big Feelings: The Training Ground for Self-Regulation.

Wherever our nervous systems are, theirs will follow. We will co-regulate or co-dysregulate.

When we meet their big feelings with frustration or anger, it doubles the already unbearable emotional temperature of the room and drives the brain into bigger distress (fight or flight).

They will either catch the emotional heat and go bigger (fight), or escape it by shutting down (flight).

Our job is to bring the temperature down by meeting their distress with an anchor presence -steady, attached, grounded.

The problem with traditional ‘discipline’.

Traditional discipline (time-out, punishment, shouty voices, shame) uses emotional or physical separation as a way to bring children back to calm. But here’s the rub: Children can’t come back to calm on their own. It also squanders an opportunity for us to build their capacity to self-regulate in healthy ways.

These strategies might look like they work, but we have to not confuse a quiet child for a calm child.

From co-regulation to self-regulation.

It takes lots of time and experience to build the neural pathways that will support self-regulation. Those pathways build through co-regulation. This provides children with the actual experience of coming back to calm safely, without having to shut their feelings down or put themselves away.

When we leave them to come back to calm on their own, we’re leaving them to do the work that adults are best placed to do. We might not be able to do this all the time – we’re human too – and that’s okay, but it’s important we do it whenever we can.

Every time a child goes into distress, their young brain is calling to the adult in the room to lead it back to calm. It’s as though the brain is saying, ‘Can you show me how to do this regulation thing. I’ll need to practice lots with you before I can do it on my own.’

Big feelings are not an interruption (though it can certainly feel that way!) and they absolutely not a bad child or bad parenting. Big feelings are the training ground for self-regulation, and co-regulation IS the work that will build this.



What about when most of the disregulation happens because the 9 yr old doesn’t get his desires met?

Karen Young

This is very normal. This counts as ‘missing out on something important’. It’s his job to hit the boundaries to discover where the edges are. It’s ours to hold the boundaries lovingly and gently. You’ll find a number of articles here on how to do this.

Karen Young

This is very normal. It’s their job to hit the boundaries to discover where the edges are. It’s our job as parents and carers to hold those boundaries lovingly, and help them back to calm through co-regulation. You’ll find many articles on this site to guide you through how.


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Thanks so much @maggiedentauthor♥️…
“Karen Young - Hey Sigmund has such a wonderful way with words especially around anxiety. This is her latest beautiful picture book that explains anxiety through the lens of the Polyvagal theory using the metaphor of a house. This shows how sometimes anxiety can be hard to notice. I think this book can help kids and teens better understand stress and anxiety. I loved it! This would be great for homes, schools and in libraries.
Congratulations Karen.💛”
Of course we love them, no matter what - but they need to feel us loving them, no matter what. Especially when they are acting in unlovable ways, or saying unlovable things. Especially then.

This is not ‘rewarding bad behaviour’. To think this assumes that they want to behave badly. They don’t. What they want is to feel calm and safe again, but in that moment they don’t have the skills to do that themselves, so they need us to help them. 

It’s leading with love. It’s showing up, even when it’s hard. The more connected they feel to us, the more capacity we will have to lead them - back to calm, into better choices, towards claiming their space in the world kindly, respectfully, and with strength. 

This is not about dropping the boundary, but about holding it lovingly, ‘I can see you’re doing it tough right now. I’m right here. No, I won’t let you [name the boundary]. I’m right here. You’re not in trouble. We’ll get through this together.’

If you’re not sure what they need, ask them (when they are calm), ‘When you get upset/ angry/ anxious, what could I do that would help you feel loved and cared for in that moment? And this doesn’t mean saying ‘yes’ to a ‘no’ situation. What can I do to make the no easier to handle? What do I do that makes it harder?’♥️
Believe them AND believe in them. 

‘Yes this is hard. I know how much you don’t want to do this. It feels big doesn’t it. And I know you can do big things, even when it feels like you can’t. How can I help?’

They won’t believe in themselves until we show them what they are capable of. For this, we’ll have to believe in their ‘can’ more than they believe in their ‘can’t’.♥️
Sometimes it feels as though how we feel directs what we do, but it also works the other way: What we do will direct how we feel. 

When we avoid, we feel more anxious, and a bigger need to avoid. But when we do brave - and it only needs to be a teeny brave step - we feel brave. The braver we do, the braver we feel, and the braver we do… This is how we build brave - with tiny, tiny uncertain steps. 

So, tell me how you feel. All feelings are okay to be there. Now tell me what you like to do if your brave felt a little bigger. What tiny step can we take towards that. Because that brave is always in you. Always. And when you take the first step, your brave will rise bigger to meet you.♥️
#anxietyinkids #consciousparenting #parentingtips #gentleparent #parentinglife #mindfulparenting #childanxiety #heywarrior
If anxiety has had extra big teeth lately, I know how brutal this feels. I really do. Think of it as the invitation to strengthen your young ones against anxiety. It’s not the disappearance of brave, or the retreat of brave. It’s the invitation to build their brave.

This is because the strengthening against anxiety happens only with experience. When the experience is in front of you, it can feel like bloodshed. I know that. I really do. But this is when we fight for them and with them - to show them they can do this.

The need to support their avoidance can feel relentless. But as long as they are safe, we don’t need to hold them back. We’ll want to, and they’ll want us to, but we don’t need to. 

Handling the distress of anxiety IS the work. Anxiety isn’t the disruption to building brave, it’s the invitation to build brave. As their important adult who knows they are capable, strong, and brave, you are the one to help them do that.

The amygdala only learns from experience - for better or worse. So the more they avoid, the more the amygdala learns that the thing they are avoiding is ‘unsafe’, and it will continue to drive a big fight (anger, distress) or flight (avoidance) response. 

On the other hand, when they stay with the discomfort of anxiety - and they only need to stay with it for a little longer each time (tiny steps count as big steps with anxiety) - the amygdala learns that it’s okay to move forward. It’s safe enough.

This learning won’t happen quickly or easily though. In fact, it will probably get worse before it gets better. This is part of the process of strengthening them against anxiety, not a disruption to it. 

As long as they are safe, their anxiety and the discomfort of that anxiety won’t hurt them. 
What’s important making sure they don’t feel alone in their distress. We can do this with validation, which shows our emotional availability. 

They also need to feel us holding the boundary, by not supporting their avoidance. This sends the message that we trust their capacity to handle this.

‘I know this feels big, and I know you can do this. What would feel brave right now?’♥️

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