Co-regulation: Infancy to Pre-school

Written by Kristin Tallackson, M.A, LPC (OH), LPC Intern (TX)


Last week, we explored the difference between self-regulation and co-regulation. Over the next few weeks, I want to give you practical ways to use co-regulation skills. Co-regulation looks different at each developmental stage. This week we are tackling infancy to pre-school.



As expected, infants require caregivers to give the majority of their regulatory needs. This includes managing feeding and environmental stimuli. Infants react to external stimuli and do not have the ability to change their experience. Infants need caregivers who are perceptive to their cues and are able to soothe them when they are in distress.



Toddlers have the motor and language skills to begin to move away from distress or articulate what it is that is bringing them distress. However, toddlers still have the inability to understand and cope with “big emotions”. It is important at this stage that caregivers begin to model skills like waiting patiently, identifying and labeling emotions, and coping with anger and stress in a calm, effective way. Caregivers are still required to provide a safe and nurturing environment where toddlers are given reassurance and comfort when they are upset.



Children experience periods of rapid growth in areas of the brain associated with self-regulation. Piggy- backing off of the toddler years, it is important to continue to reinforce emotion identification, perspective-taking, calm down strategies, and problem-solving. I can not express enough how important it is to model the behavior and skills you are teaching your children. At this developmental stage, co-regulation will include communicating clear rules and expectations, and providing logical and natural consequences that are firm but communicated in a calm manner.  As with other developmental stages, pre-school children continue to need structured, predictable environments and warm, responsive caregivers that provide a supportive context in which to practice new skills (Murray et al., 2015).