What’s missing from the self-regulation discussion? Part 3

In this last instalment of my self-regulation series, I focus on practical ways to co-regulate with students.

(see part one here and part two here).

Co-regulation and attachment are like peas in a self-regulation pod.

In order for co-regulation to happen, a positive relationship must exist between the adult and the child. Sarah Sanders, in a comment on my last blog post, referred to this as a secure attachment.

Follow the steps in logic:

If the ability to self-regulate is developed by external and co-regulation


External and co-regulation require secure attachments


Educators must create secure attachments to participate in this process.


If a student trusts you and likes you, then this process of increased  regulation is possible.

If a student does not trust you, or thinks you do not like them, you will probably be unsuccessful.

With that in mind, the first step is to establish a positive and trusting relationship. (Isn’t that the first step for just about anything?)

So what does co-regulation look like? 

A student is shouting at their desk and you hear it from across the room…


A student refuses to attempt the math problem/language activity/drama group project/etc..

Discretely walk over to them and:

a) Help them regulate by stating a neutral observation (this is an invitation to co -regulate):

  • Hey Sam, I noticed you’re not with your drama group.
  • Hey Sam, I noticed you haven’t started your math yet. What’s up?

This neutral lead statement creates an opening for co-regulation so we can co-operatively reduce the stressors (which we don’t know about unless we ask).

We can also…

b) Ask if they need help (this must be said in a genuine way, showing that you do indeed want to help)

If they do need help with something (Yes I need help, Brian is being annoying…Yes I need help, this work is impossible…) then continue with the conversation, listening with empathy and helping them sort it out. 

Or we can…

c) Ask if there’s something we can do to help them down/up-regulate (such as accessing some of the environmental accommodations in the room)

The key is the teacher as facilitator and helper for kids who can’t do it consistently on their own.

Inversely, the following things will not lead to increased regulatory ability:

-speaking to them from across the room

-speaking to them in front of others

-referring to a code of conduct, classroom rule chart, or progressive discipline system

-using contingency statements such as:

If you don’t work hard on this math, you’re going to have a tough time next year when it’s twice as difficult

If you continue speaking out, I’m going to…”

-token economies, reward charts and other motivation related tactics (because if they could regulate, they would!)

So if I want to develop my skills in co-regulation, where do I go from here?

Dr. Ross Greene and Dr. Karyn Purvis.

Dr. Ross Greene refers to the co-regulation process in his framework Collaborative and Proactive Solutions.

Greene’s “Plan B” approach includes showing empathy, defining the problem, and inviting the kid to co-create a solution.

This is detailed at length in Greene’s The Explosive Child and Lost at School.

Dr. Karyn Purvis focuses on the attachment cycle and how positive attachments can significantly impact a child’s ability to regulate.

Her work is based out of TCU and can be found under the program name of Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI).

When you hear the term self-regulation, you probably already envision the various environmental accommodations you’ve seen on Twitter, in person, and perhaps in your own classroom.

Recognizing that many kids cannot access these accommodations on an independent basis is a necessary part of the self-regulation discussion.

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