Healthy Youth Development through Self-Regulation and Co-Regulation

Learning how to self-regulate their emotions, reactions, and behaviors is an important skill for youth as they enter and navigate their teenage and young adult years. Self-regulation is “the act of managing thoughts and feelings to enable goal-directed action now and in the future.”

Adults can support adolescents’ development of self-regulation skills by providing co-regulation. Co-regulation is the interactive process by which caring adults (1) provide warm supportive relationships, (2) promote self-regulation through coaching, modeling, and feedback, and (3) structure supportive environments (Co-Regulation from Birth through Young Adulthood: A Practice Brief; Murray et al., 2019). What co-regulation looks like will change at different phases of adolescence and young adulthood, but remains a critical resource across all ages.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Planning, Research, & Evaluation (OPRE) has developed resources, guides, and supports for caring adults to help youth as they develop self-regulation skills, including research and strategies on co-regulation. These resources are grounded in foundational work to communicate an applied model of self-regulation to inform prevention, public health, and future research by Murray, Rosanbalm, and colleagues.

This animated video provides a brief overview of co-regulation, as well evidence-informed strategies to foster self-regulation in youth.

Self-Regulation and Toxic Stress Series

Early adversity and chronic stress can negatively impact adolescents’ ability to learn and practice self-regulation. OPRE created the Self-Regulation and Toxic Stress Series to help practitioners and educators promote a self-regulation framework for youth experiencing toxic stress with the goal of strengthening prevention programs.

The series consists of:

  • Reports
  • Practice briefs focused on particular age groups
  • Briefs focused on specific topics
  • Snap shots that summarize key self-regulation concepts across six age groups
  • Practitioner tip sheets
  • Summaries of the existing gaps and future directions for research and practice

Co-Regulation in Human Services

Co-regulation is most effective when it is tailored to specific age groups, is flexible, and aligns with the values and goals of individuals and communities.

OPRE strives to translate co-regulation research into practice for human services programs and providers through creating and sharing actionable resources and determining research and exploration priorities. OPRE’s suite of co-regulation resources and products supports human services agencies in implementing co-regulation. As you scroll down the page you will find practice resources, blogs, and information on co-regulation research and evaluation projects.

OPRE additionally developed two resources to increase the focus on self-regulation development in youth programs. The first brief builds on developmental psychology and prevention to explain how integrating co-regulation approaches into youth service delivery may improve program implementation and youth outcomes. It includes a discussion guide for program directors to engage in conversations with their staff. The second brief provides concrete, step-by-step instructions for implementing six evidence-informed and theory-based co-regulation strategies for adults who work with youth ages 14-24.

Guides for Adults on Co-Regulation for Older Youth in Foster Care

Older youth who have been involved in the foster care system have unique experiences and self-regulation support needs. In this context, co-regulation is defined as “the supportive process by which caring adults and peers promote positive youth development through (1) caring, consistent, & responsive relationships; (2) the co-creation of supportive environments; and (3) intentional and developmentally-informed day-to-day interactions.” OPRE developed four guides to help adults who play a role in the lives of older youth in foster care.

The guides explain what co-regulation is, its components, why it is important, and specific examples of how co-regulation can be applied during interactions with youth. Each guide is tailored for the adults who play different roles in a youth’s life: foster families, kinship caregivers, child welfare professionals, and other caring adults.