adult hands providing emotional support to children through co-regulation

Co-regulation or Self-regulation? What do kids need?

Co-Regulation or Self Regulation?

What’s the difference between co-regulation and self-regulation in kids? While these terms may sound similar, they are two distinct approaches to managing emotions in children. Emotional development plays a pivotal role in shaping a child’s overall well-being. Within this, two vital concepts emerge; co-regulation and self-regulation. Understanding the difference between co-regulation and self-regulation is crucial in supporting children’s emotional growth and fostering healthy relationships.

In this blog post, I’ll explore the difference between these two terms and explain why they are so important to children’s emotional development.

Co-Regulation: Nurturing Emotional Bonds

Co-regulation is a process where a child can rely on a parent, teacher or caregiver for emotional support when they become upset or emotionally overwhelmed. Through co-regulation, the adult creates a supportive and nurturing environment that allows the child to feel safe, acknowledged, and understood. This connection is vital for a child’s emotional well-being as it helps them learn to trust others for comfort and guidance.

In co-regulation, caregivers play an active role in guiding children through emotional challenges. They offer a secure base from which children can explore and express their emotions without fear of judgment or rejection. Through attentive listening, empathetic responses, and providing appropriate boundaries, caregivers help children navigate complex emotions, teaching them how to manage stress, frustration, or sadness effectively.

mother with long dark hair on a couch comforting a small crying boy by providing co-regulation

Co-regulation with a safe adult helps kids feel safe and understood.

The Importance of Co-Regulation

There are several reasons why co-regulation is so important for children:
1. Emotional Bonding: Co-regulation builds solid emotional bonds between children and their caregivers, which increases feelings of security and trust.
2. Emotional Awareness: When kids receive an empathetic response from caregivers, they learn to recognise and label their emotions, which increases their emotional intelligence.
3. Self-Reflection: Co-regulation encourages children to reflect on their feelings and develop a sense of self-awareness, enabling them to understand their emotional experiences better.
4. Stress Reduction: When children feel supported and understood, their stress levels decrease, leading to improved emotional regulation and overall well-being.
5. Social Skills: Co-regulation lays the foundation for healthy social interactions, as children learn to regulate emotions in different contexts and empathise with others.

The Synergy of Co-Regulation and Self-Regulation:

Co-regulation and self-regulation aren’t opposites, rather, they are complementary elements in a child’s emotional journey. Initially, infants, toddlers and younger children need to rely heavily on co-regulation with a trusted adult to build a secure emotional foundation. As they grow, mature, and gain more experience, they gradually transition towards self-regulation, while still benefiting from the ongoing support and guidance of caring adults.

A father shows the importance of co-regulation by comforting his upset daughter

As children mature they transition from needing co-regulation to developing more self-regulation

Self-Regulation: Building Inner Strength

Self-regulation refers to a child’s ability to independently manage their emotions and behaviour. It involves recognising and understanding one’s own emotions, employing coping strategies, and adapting to different situations without becoming overly distressed. Self-regulation empowers children to take ownership of their emotional well-being and navigate challenges independently.

Self-regulation refers to the child’s skills such as self-control, problem-solving, and impulse management. When a child has developed self-regulation skills they can, as a rule, calm themselves down when distressed and make thoughtful decisions. While adults still play a supportive role, self-regulation allows children to gradually develop autonomy and become more self-reliant in managing their emotions.

The Importance of Self-Regulation

Self-regulation equips kids with the following skills;
1. Emotional Resilience: Self-regulation equips children with the tools to handle setbacks, stress, and challenges which helps build resilience.
2. Empowerment: When kids develop self-regulation skills, it empowers them to take control of their emotions, boosting their confidence and self-esteem.
3. Long-Term Success: Children with strong self-regulation skills are better equipped to concentrate, manage their impulses, and engage in goal-oriented behaviours, all of which contribute to their personal and learning success.
4. Conflict Resolution: Self-regulation enhances the child’s ability to manage conflict with others effectively as children learn to communicate their emotions and needs assertively and constructively.
5. Independence: Self-regulation cultivates independence and coping skills, enabling children to navigate emotional challenges and make sound decisions as they grow and mature.

A little girl demonstrates her self-regulation skills by meditating independently

Self-regulation builds independence and coping skills

Encouraging both co-regulation and self-regulation helps children establish healthy emotional patterns. It fosters a sense of autonomy, self-awareness, and resilience, while simultaneously emphasising the importance of supportive relationships. By providing a balance between support and independence, we can promote children’s emotional well-being, laying the groundwork for their future success and happiness.


In children’s emotional development, co-regulation and self-regulation are invaluable components that complement and reinforce each other. Co-regulation builds the emotional bonds and secure base necessary for children to develop self-regulation skills. The ability to navigate and regulate emotions independently empowers children, fostering resilience, autonomy, and emotional intelligence. By understanding the difference between co-regulation and self-regulation and their significance, we can effectively support children in their emotional growth and set them on a path towards emotional well-being and success in life.