Sharing with permission from Autball‘s Fake vs Feal: Self-Regulation Skill.
This is part 2 of their 5-part series on self-regulation. You can read their write-up here.

We often receive requests from parents to work on their children’s emotional regulation with the implication that they need more self-regulation skills.

As parents, we all want our children to be happy and well-adjusted, but it’s easy to get caught up in quick-fix solutions for self-regulation. True self-regulation doesn’t come from a set of skills taught in a vacuum. Instead, it starts with safe co-regulation from infancy, where children learn through consistent, emotionally attuned interactions with their caregivers. If a child is always stressed, trying to teach self-regulation without addressing the root causes of their distress is futile.  The real work begins with us, the adults, learning to create a safe, supportive environment. By reducing stress, providing a nurturing presence and modelling through our own emotional regulation, we give our children the foundation they need to develop genuine self-regulation skills over time.

Should children learn to emotionally regulate themselves independently? 

Expecting children to master emotional regulation on their own is akin to throwing them into open water without a flotation device, hoping they’ll learn to swim. Just as a child needs support and guidance to learn swimming techniques and water safety, they need adult support to navigate their emotional world. Adults can adjust their level of involvement according to the child’s preferences, competence, and circumstance, ensuring a balanced approach to developing these essential skills. We also prioritize skills and experience before endurance.

Yet, in many Western cultures, there is a strong emphasis on independence from a young age. The idea that children should learn to manage their emotions and solve their problems on their own is often seen as a marker of success and maturity. This preoccupation with independence can be detrimental for self-awareness and self-perception and the need for supportive relationships in healthy emotional development.

Cherish Clinic’s Approach to Emotional Regulation

At Cherish Clinic, we see emotional dysregulation as a symptom that invites investigation and problem-solving. For neurodivergent individuals, emotional dysregulation is often just the tip of the iceberg, signaling underlying and complex challenges that need to be addressed.

Drawing on Dr. Stuart Shanker’s framework of Self-Reg, we understand that self-regulation is not merely about managing emotions but about recognizing and responding to stress across five critical domains: biological, emotional, cognitive, social, and prosocial. Emotional dysregulation can stem from stressors in any or all of these domains, and our approach at Cherish Clinic is to explore these areas comprehensively through individual therapy, family consultation, and multidiscipline collaboration.

Individual Therapy
The therapists lend children their regulation capacity through co-regulation. We work to establish, maintain, and repair a physical and social environment that is compatible with their needs and preferences through a process-oriented approach. By creating a safe, supportive environment, we help children to experience regulation and recognize and explore their stressors.  Then, we model self-compassion and neurodivegent-affirming self-acceptance.  From here, the client’s innate strength and resourcefulness will emerge and thrive.

Family Consultation

Family involvement is crucial in our approach. Through family consultations, we equip parents and caregivers with the tools and knowledge needed to support their children effectively. This includes teaching co-regulation techniques, developing supportive routines, and creating an sensory-informed and emotionally attuned home environment. We believe that when families work together, children are better able to manage their stress and emotions.

Multidisciplinary Collaboration
We collaborate with various professionals, including educators, medical practitioners, and other therapists, to ensure a holistic approach to each child’s well-being. This multidisciplinary collaboration allows us to address all aspects of a child’s life that may contribute to their emotional dysregulation, providing comprehensive support that extends beyond the therapy room.