The Family that Wires Together, Thrives Together: Co-regulation through Therapeutic Family Yoga
Updated: Nov 2
As a therapist and children's Yoga facilitator, I've witnessed the incredible transformations that occur when families come together to practice yoga. Through Therapeutic Family Yoga, parents and children have the opportunity to connect, laugh, move, and breathe as one. This practice is not just about physical postures but also about the profound impact it has on co-regulation - a key ingredient in a child's development and family dynamics.
What Is Co-Regulation?
Co-regulation is the process of one person regulating the emotional state of another. In the context of family yoga, it's all about parents and children finding that sweet spot where they synchronize their emotional responses. In essence, it's a beautiful dance where both parties attune to each other's emotions, helping create a harmonious and secure environment.
Nurturing Child Development and Brain Wiring
From a child's perspective, co-regulation through family yoga can be like a comforting lighthouse in the sea of emotions. It can teach them how to navigate their feelings, understand their bodies, and express themselves in a safe and supportive space. By observing their parents' emotional regulation, children learn to model these behaviours, which is crucial for their own emotional intelligence.
In fact, co-regulation also has a significant impact on the wiring of the brain. The connections formed during co-regulation moments become the foundation for the child's future emotional regulation and social interactions. As children learn to recognize and manage their own emotions, they build strong neural pathways for resilience and empathy.
The developmental journey from co-regulation to self-regulation
Co-regulation is a fundamental aspect of a child's development, and it's important to note that it begins right from birth. Babies and young children participate in co-regulation as soon as they are born, relying on the support and guidance of parents, caregivers, teachers, and even older peers to help them navigate the complex world of emotions and external stressors. This co-regulation process typically extends through the first 7 years of life, and in many cases, even beyond this age, as children continue to benefit from the assistance of trusted adults.
As children grow, their self-regulation skills naturally develop, transitioning from a supported mechanism to an independent ability. This shift towards self-regulation is an essential part of their maturation process. However, it's important to emphasize that co-regulation precedes self-regulation developmentally. Young children need the presence of caring adults who can help them "learn the ropes" of emotional balance and inner calm. Co-regulation serves as the foundation on which self-regulation is built.
The significance of co-regulation cannot be overstated. It empowers children to understand and manage their emotions, creating a safe and supportive environment for them to explore their feelings. The role of adults in this process is crucial. Adults who can offer guidance, patience, and effective tools and strategies create a nurturing atmosphere where children can thrive.
One essential aspect to consider is how adults respond to a child's emotional outbursts or challenging behaviours. When adults model emotional outbursts, anger, stress, or anxiety in response, it can hinder the child's ability to soothe themselves and effectively learn self-regulation. Therefore, it is imperative for adults to assess their own stressors, internal anxiety, and emotional states, as this self-awareness is essential in providing the support children need.
In essence, the co-regulation journey is one that extends throughout a significant part of childhood, and adults play a central role in this process. By creating an environment that fosters co-regulation, we empower children to develop the necessary skills for self-regulation and emotional well-being.
The Role of Oxytocin
Oxytocin, often referred to as the "love hormone" or "bonding hormone," plays a significant role in co-regulation. When parents and children engage in physical touch and close emotional connection, oxytocin is released. This hormone enhances feelings of trust and attachment, strengthening the parent-child bond.
Strengthening the Parent-Child Relationship
Co-regulation isn't just about helping children; it's about nurturing the parent-child bond. In a world filled with to-do lists and distractions, family yoga offers a precious opportunity for parents and children to genuinely connect. As parents, we lead by example - when we practice self-regulation, we teach our children the invaluable skill of managing their emotions.
Co-Regulation through Therapeutic Family Yoga?
Therapeutic Family Yoga goes a step further. It's a safe haven where families can explore emotional expression, share challenges, and celebrate achievements. By practicing together, parents and children build trust and intimacy, and in turn, this enhances their communication, problem-solving, and conflict-resolution skills.
In therapeutic family yoga, we also practice using a wider vocabulary to describe our emotional state and explore where we notice the emotion in the body. Raising emotional awareness and developing the skill to articulate what our bodies are feeling empowers us to connect with others effectively to fulfil our needs. This ability is invaluable in various contexts, whether it's within a family, professional, or educational setting. It guides conversations and actions toward constructive ways of meeting needs and offering support. Instead of feeling victimized and trapped by the emotions a situation might trigger, addressing these emotions and taking action to fulfil our needs builds resilience and empathy—both toward ourselves and others.
Nurturing Co-Regulation at Home
Here are some fun, practical, and easy ways parents can practice co-regulation at home with their children:
1. Mindful Breathing Together: Start your day with a mindful breathing exercise. Sit together in a comfortable space and take a few moments to breathe deeply. Invite your child to match their breath to yours, creating a sense of calm right from the beginning.
2. Create a "Feelings Chart": Make a fun and colourful chart with various emotion faces and hang it up in a common area. Encourage your child to point to the face that represents how they're feeling at different times during the day. This simple act can help them identify and communicate their emotions.
3. Family "Emotion Dance": Put on some music and have an "emotion dance" session. Each family member takes turns expressing an emotion through dance, using their bodies to show happiness, sadness, excitement, or any feeling they choose. It's a playful way to promote emotional expression and co-regulation.
4. Emotion Naming Game: During mealtime or bedtime, play an "emotion naming game" where each person shares one emotion they felt during the day, where they noticed it in their body, and why they felt that way. This activity encourages emotional awareness and provides an opportunity for co-regulation as you validate each other's feelings. It also give parents a clearer insight to what their child's day has been like.
5. Co-Regulation Before Sleep: Develop a soothing bedtime routine that includes co-regulation activities. Read a book, share gratitude, or engage in a calming yoga or breathing exercise together. This will help your child wind down and feel connected, making it easier for them to sleep peacefully.
6. Family Yoga Sessions: Consider regular family yoga experiences at home, even if they're shorter and simpler than the therapeutic family yoga classes you may attend over the weekend. You can follow online videos or create your sequences. Use this time to connect, laugh, and breathe together. It's a wonderful way to practice co-regulation and strengthen your family bonds.
By incorporating these simple yet effective practices into your daily life, you can extend the benefits of co-regulation beyond the yoga studio and into your home. As a therapist, I believe that the real magic happens when families weave co-regulation into the fabric of their everyday lives. These practices not only nurture your child's emotional development but also enrich your family's connection and well-being.
Join Us on This Journey
If you're looking to strengthen the bonds within your family, support your child's emotional growth, and lay a healthy foundation for their brain wiring, Therapeutic Family Yoga is a path worth exploring. I invite you to sign up to my newsletter, so you can receive information about our upcoming classes and how they can benefit your family, as well as receive valuable insights and tips on well-being. Should you have any questions or simply want to connect, please feel free to reach out.
As a therapist, I'm passionate about the journey towards greater emotional understanding, stronger family connections, and well-wired brains. I'd be happy to connect with you if you're interested in learning more about emotional regulation, mental fitness and resilience through my therapy services, workshops and retreats.
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Let's get in touch - and until then, take care.
Therapist and Founder of SETUKA , a platform for body-based therapies and well-being services for individuals and organisations.