Big Feelings: The Training Ground for Self-Regulation.

Boy looking at camera in 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.



I needed this. My son is 3 (possibly on the spectrum, eval happening soon ) and is starting to throw tantrums. I lost my cool today and yelled. I felt so bad afterwards but I was tired, and frustrated and felt very flustered. I completely disregarded the fact that he’s still a baby.


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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The point of any ‘discipline’ is to teach, not to punish. (‘Disciple’ means student, follower, learner.)

Children don’t learn through punishment. They comply through punishment, but the mechanism is control and fear. 

The problem with this, is that the goal becomes avoiding us when things go wrong, rather than seeking us out. We can’t influence them if we’ve taught them to keep their messes hidden from us. 

We can’t guide our kiddos if they aren’t open to us, and they won’t be open to us if they are scared of what we will do. 

We all have an instinctive need to stay relationally safe. This means feeling free from rejection, shame, humiliation. The problem with traditional discipline is that it rejects and judges the child, rather than the behaviour. 

Hold them close, reject their behaviour. 

This makes it more likely that they will turn toward us instead of away from us. It opens the way for us to guide, lead, teach. It makes it safe for them to turn and face what’s happened so they can learn what they might do differently in the future.

Rather than, ‘How do I scare them out of bad behaviour?’ try, ‘How do I help them to do better next time?’ 

Is the way you respond to their messy decisions or behaviour more likely to drive them away from you in critical times or towards you? Let it be towards you.

This doesn’t mean giving a free pass on big behaviour. It means rather than leading through fear and shame, we lead through connection, conversation and education. 

The ‘consequence’ for big behaviour shouldn’t be punishment to make them feel bad, but the repairing of any damage so they can feel the good in who they are. It’s the conversation with you where they turn and face their behaviour. This will always be easier when they feel you loving them, and embracing who they are, even when you reject what they do.♥️
#parent #parents #mindfulparenting #gentleparenting
Kununurra I’m so excited to be with you tonight. I’ll be giving you super practical ways to strengthen your kiddos and teens against all sorts and all levels of anxiety - big anxiety, little anxiety, anxiety about school, separation, trying new things - all of it. You’ll walk away with things you can do tonight - and I can’t wait! Afterwards we’ll have time for a chat where we can dive into your questions (my favourite part). This is a free event organised by the Parenting Connection WA (I love this organisation so much!). The link for tickets is in my story♥️
Hello Broome! Can’t wait to see you tonight. Tickets still available. The link is in my story. 

Thank you Parenting Connection WA for bringing me here and for the incredible work you do to support and strengthen families.♥️
What a weekend! Thank you Sydney for your open hearts, minds and arms this weekend at @resilientkidsconference. Your energy and warmth were everything.♥️
I LOVE being able to work with early childhood centres and schools. The most meaningful, enduring moments of growth and healing happen on those everyday moments kids have with their everyday adults - parents, carers, teachers. It takes a village doesn’t it.♥️

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