Co-Regulation: A Brief Introduction

Human beings spend enormous energy seeking to form and maintain states of connection with one another in a multitude of shapes and forms and for many different functions. Obtaining the rewards of interpersonal collaboration is our most powerful motivation and also our greatest mental challenge. Navigating the complex, uncertain, emergent environments inherently found during interpersonal engagements requires our most sophisticated dynamic processing abilities.

When you are engaging with a challenging non-social problem such as, “How do I replace a light bulb on a high ceiling when I do not have a ladder?”, the decisional field presented by the problem provides you with a great deal of constancy. The critical elements of the light bulb problem, once formed, will remain largely invariant. The bulb will not magically change. The ceiling will not suddenly become higher or lower.

In contrast, even simple interpersonal engagements provide relatively little constancy. The decisional field may be re-formed during each moment that we engage with one another. Our faces, voice tones, emotions and ideas are constantly in flux.

Any successful participants in a meaningful interpersonal engagement must engage in a balancing/juggling act that maintains the consensual experience of continuity along with maintaining the joint experience of co-creation that provides sufficient novel ideas, feelings and perspectives. This latter element entails the ongoing insertion of new and often unpredictable information. While this represents the very the essence of human communication, it requires continual monitoring and adaptation.

Related: Developing the Brain Through MindGuiding

Joint engagements will typically only be successful if all participants share in the responsibility for maintaining an ongoing co-regulatory process. This typically involves making small adjustments to our communication and actions, when we perceive or anticipate that our level of social coordination has or is about to sink below a subjectively acceptable state. Most of the time, this process takes place on a sub-conscious basis. Without being aware of it, each participant engages in an ongoing  assessment; a micro decision-making process aimed at maintaining a consensually derived, dynamically shifting, optimal balance. However, each participant must also remain aware of the inevitability of sudden co-regulatory breakdowns and be prepared to take necessary repair actions.

This interpersonal collaboration breaks down in persons with ASD, but parents and other caregivers can work to rebuild the ability to co-regulate through focusing on the MindGuiding Relationship.

This article is published in the RDI Learning Community, along with additional resources for how to employ Mindful Guiding to foster children’s co-regulatory functions that are essential for future collaboration, communication and friendship.


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