Every week we meet with parents who have been dealing with their children’s feelings of frustration, anger, helplessness, and disappointment while they are also trying to deal with those feelings themselves. They feel as if they are in a small boat on rough seas trying very hard to navigate away from the rocks. Recently there has been a meme circulating social media which illustrates this. It comes in different imagery, but the message is always the same – ‘When their storm meets our calm co-regulation occurs.’
While seemingly sensible and sound on the surface, regulating or co-regulating emotions is never that simple, quick or easy. Co-regulation is important for children because it is an essential building block for children to develop the ability to regulate their own emotions. Throughout the day we all move between safe, struggling and drowning. It happens every time a child is cuddled, disciplined, smiled at, teased, shouted at, played with, ignored or asked to wait.
Children are full of emotions that are not only thoughts, but feelings within their bodies. They do not come into the world pre-programmed to cope with these intense feelings. Babies cannot calm themselves: they need a trusted adult to soothe and reassure with comfort, food and attention. It is with repeated experiences of this care that babies stop being overwhelmed, learn to trust their carer and begin to manage big feelings through co-regulation. At this stage of development, ‘our calm’ meeting ‘their storm’ can be straightforward.
At Beacon Family Services, we know that experiencing a safe and trusting environment where children feel content, confident and comfortable is essential within relationships. For some children who have experienced early adversity ‘our calm’ will have little affect on ‘their storm’. For children who have been adopted or are being fostered, it will take time before they can trust their adoptive or foster parents and feel safe. For other children, due to ADHD or autism, their sensory needs make it more difficult for parents to work out how to soothe their storm and provide reassurance and comfort. In these examples, co-regulation rarely happens quickly, regardless of how calmly we weather their storm. Suggesting to parents that their children’s behaviours will improve if they just calm down is overly simplistic at best, and, at it’s worst, it’s insulting.
Parents don’t often feel as though they are on a calm sea. They are also in the storm, often struggling on the rocks or even drowning. For families trying to navigate in a storm of swirling emotion, we offer support through mapping their emotional world. Because our (relation)ships don’t always sail on a calm sea, parents and carers need to be able to recognise the early warning signs, be prepared for all conditions and be able to navigate safely and according to the prevailing conditions. We find that when parents develop a map of their own and their child’s emotional world they come to know how to prepare for and navigate their children’s storms –and their own.
At Beacon Family Services Family Services, we believe parents shouldn’t be made to feel as though they are failing if they are not always calm. That is why we are dedicated to developing resources and therapies to support parents’ and carers’ emotional wellbeing and understanding of the link between thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
Rooted in play therapy and based on Dr Stephen Porges’ Polyvagal Theory, ‘Cards to help you connect’ packs include resources to help parents, carers, teachers, professionals, and the children themselves, understand what their behaviours can tell us about how they are feeling, as well as activity cards to connect with children to help them feel safe.
Our resources are also available for organisations and charities to order in bulk at a reduced cost. Please get in touch with us via firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your requirements.
As a CIC (Community Interest Company) we are committed to supporting our wider community and the work of the organisations we partner with. Therefore, we’ve allocated portion of the profits of each sale to support families who may not be able to afford therapy and a portion of the profits to support the work of AdoptionUK.
If you or someone you know is struggling with family relationships, Beacon Family Services can help. We provide a range of therapies and resources to support parents, children and families including our Connect For Kids Theraplay group and Playing It Safe parent workshops, resources to understand the relationship between emotions and behaviours and play-based individual and family therapy to build and strengthen positive relationships.
ORGANISATIONS & CHARITIES:
We are able to provide training in using our resources with families and in schools. Please get in touch with us on email@example.com to find out more.
Sign up to our newsletter for more helpful advice and support.
Charlotte Jenkins is the founder and a director of Beacon Family Services. She is an experienced social worker supporting children and families therapeutically using Theraplay® and Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy.