Self Regulation - It's Important!

Self Regulation - It's Important!


Simply put, self-regulation is being able to manage feelings (particularly big feelings) and impulses and modify our actions and our words so they don’t intrude heavily on our relationships or when we are going about our day-to-day life.

It relates to the ability to resist ‘losing it’ in situations where we are upset or frustrated, to find composure when we are super excited or to rebound from disappointment. Ultimately it’s our capacity to think before acting. It is also a vital piece of emotional intelligence.

Our ability to self-regulate as an adult is a process that starts in infancy. It develops through warm responsive relationships, and co-regulation, with our carers and, as children, by watching the important adults in our life manage their own feelings and behaviour. In terms of life skills, self-regulation is as important as toilet training and learning to read and write.


Self- regulation is NOT about ‘not feeling’ or suppressing feelings. Locking feelings away can cause just as much trouble as lashing out!

There is also nothing wrong with having big feelings, even the messy and uncomfortable ones. Big feelings are just as valid as short-lived and little feelings and it’s okay for kids and grown-ups to feel whatever it is they feel.

What is important is how those feelings are managed, how we behave when we are experiencing them and the impact on others of our behaviour when we are caught up in an emotionally charged moment.

As adults we all carry responsibility for nurturing our children towards being able to recognize, acknowledge and express what they’re feeling, without causing damage to themselves, their relationships or those around them.


There is a lot or research and literature that highlights the negative impacts of parental conflict on children’s wellbeing. Children fare badly when their parents and families engage in ongoing conflict. For example when there is no acknowledgement of one another at changeovers or when discussions about parenting matters devolve into yelling and/or name-calling or passive aggressive sarcastic comments etc.

They fare even worse when their parents intentionally or accidentally draw them into that conflict. The longer and more intense that parental conflict is, the greater the likelihood of long-term damage to children.

When the divorce dust settles, children who have parents who continue to react with emotional intensity towards one another tend to experience more distress. Additionally, whatever the problem causing disagreement between the parents, is less likely to get resolved. This means that besides being sad or distressed, kids might miss out on various things because decisions about things that affect them or are important to them, are not made or are not made in a timely fashion.


Now we know that whatever our age, managing strong messy and uncomfortable emotions is sometimes much easier said than done. However skilled we may be with regard to emotional self- regulation, there will inevitably be times when we “flip our lid”. After all, we are only human and parenting and co-parenting is hard, emotionally charged work which has to be tackled alongside other challenges we might be experiencing in our professional and relational adult life.

In shared care situations the self-regulation process can be made even more challenging because of the extra demands on co-parents as a result of the need to engage and cooperate with people you may not like or respect or who have hurt you or someone you love.

Circumstances under which managing your emotional reaction and responses to your coparent become even more difficult are when one or several of the adults involved are still carrying emotional wounds inflicted by divorce; by unresolved court proceedings; or judicial decisions about parenting arrangements they consider to be unfair or wrong. The situation may be further complicated by difficult temperaments, psychopathology, illness, bereavement etc.


Children learn how to communicate feelings, how to interact with care, empathy and respect and problem solve from observing their parents and by their parents modelling positive behaviours and healthy conflict resolution skills andthe emotional climate of the family (in both their homes).

Whatever the challenges to keeping our cool, how we react and respond to things, particularly in front of the kids, is how our children will also learn to react to things. We have to be in control of ourselves if we want them to learn how be in control of themselves into the future.

Adults around children need to be regulated themselves.


Co-parents with effective self-regulation skills are better able to navigate the demands of a post separation parenting arrangements, which means kids will experience:
  • More responsive parenting.
  • Less stress and higher self-esteem.
  • Less opportunities to be exposed to or drawn into adult issues and conflict.
  • An increased likelihood of both parents being actively involved in their life and in decisions that impact them.
  • Less likely to experience a loyalty conflict involving their parents.
  • Role modelling of effective communication and healthy conflict resolutions skills.

From a practical perspective, it can stop you yelling at your coparent, name calling, ignoring them at changings or sending a harsh email, no matter how your coparent many be choosing to behave. It can help being able to treat your co-parent respectably, even if you disagree. This sets an excellent example for your child and goes towards maintaining a neutral environment between your child’s two homes.


Managing our own emotions and impulses, is a vital piece of an effective post separation parental alliance that will ultimately benefit you and your child and improve their overall wellbeing.

To help you effectively manage your emotions when dealing with your co-parent, try these tips:

  1. Do breathing exercises (like mindful breathing);
  2. Eat healthy, drink lots of water, and limit alcohol consumption;
  3. Cultivate the skill of mindfulness to maintain moment-to-moment awareness;
  4. Exercise as regularly as you can;
  5. Make sleep a priority;
  6. Make time for activities that bring you joy or are fun;
  7. Take time for yourself, and do what replenishes you;
  8. Pay attention to positive events.
These tips likely come off as very general, but it’s true that living a generally healthy life is important in reducing your stress and reserving your energy for self-regulation when dealing with a co-parent, a parenting request or a situation you find challenging.

“Speak when you are angry, and you will make the best speech you will ever regret”.
-Ambrose Bierce (American short story writer and journalist)

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