Last night was a bit rough at my house. We are in the middle of potty training my son. He's started to become more independent with taking off his pants and putting them back on, so we've been allowing him to experiment and own his learning. He does a lot of pants off, pants on, pants off, pants on. Tonight, we weren't watching closely enough and he put his shorts back on, but not a pull-up.
A bit later, we looked around and his pants were wet, as were the floors throughout the living room and hall. Oops!
I threw him in the tub while my husband cleaned, and it was time for bedtime. In retrospect, my husband and I needed to be more calm as we handled the mess. We didn't scold him or express disapproval towards him, but we were flustered.
We didn't regulate our own emotions well, and that didn't allow our son to co-regulate in a healthy manner.
Co-regulation occurs when parents provide warm interactions in combination with modeling and coaching that help toddlers “understand, express, and modulate their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors” (Murray et al. 2015).
Because we didn't handle our own emotions well, our son's emotions got really intense, really quick when it was time to go to bed. Instead of calmly getting him into the bath, taking our time, and staying calm, we rushed around, creating a situation where he felt rushed and sensed our anxiety. It's no surprise, that bedtime didn't go smoothly after that.
He was very angry, and because we have worked hard on expressing emotions, he was yelling, "I'M ANGRYYYYY". We tried to push him to sit in daddy's lap and then he moved to the floor. And back to daddy. And back to the floor. And then to the beanbag, demanding his baby and his blanket. He'd never done this before, and it made me realize something was happening in his world. The picture shows what the situation looked like for a good long while.
I had all these ideas of things I wanted to do once he was asleep, and I felt frustrated, but after some time, I realized I just had to let go. I knew he was exhausted and would go down eventually. I just had to get really calm and let him regulate himself based off my calmness. I sat down in the rocker and got really quiet and still. I started humming a song I made up when I brought him home when he was two days old.
After a bit, he crawled in my lap and about two minutes later he said "mommy I lay in bed". He got down and crawled in bed. I patted him and he hummed along with me until he fell asleep.
So what happened??
Sometimes as parents, we don't regulate our own emotions, and it impacts our toddlers in challenging ways. And when our toddlers experience emotional challenges due to our own lack of regulation, we react in ways that don't help them move through their emotions and back into a calm state.
TLDR: We created a challenging emotional situation our toddler and then got frustrated with our toddler when he reacted to our emotionality. We were at fault, not our toddler.
The ways we show up emotionally and respond in challenging situations can change the way our toddlers feel in their world.
This story illustrates that it's never too late to turn it around!
We messed up the first part of bedtime and then we self-corrected. Even though our son was very dysregulated when we started our bedtime routine, he didn't cry himself to sleep. We recognized what was happened, changed how we were responding to him, and ensured he went to sleep feeling calm, safe, and loved.
It's never too late to learn to co-regulate. For more information, you can visit these resources: