fbpx Learning to Co-Regulate Emotions
Authored by Nexus Family Healing on June 24, 2021

Dena has three children – her seven-year old twins, Ali* and Dane*, and Betsy* who is eight. When her children were younger, Dena and her husband struggled in their marriage. Her husband was in and out of jail and they argued a lot. Dena and her husband got a divorce and Dena needed to enroll her children into daycare. It was around this time that her children started to have lots of emotional and behavioral issues. Betsy and Ali would scream at and scratch others, and they were unable to keep themselves safe. Dane would throw things. Ali also struggled to sleep at night, often taking three hours to fall asleep and when she did, it was out of pure exhaustion.

After her divorce, Dena and her children moved in with Dena’s mom to get back on her feet. Moving in with her mom wasn’t any easier. Her mom struggled with alcoholism and violence. “I grew up in a family where kids were seen, but not heard. Kids did what they were told and if they disobeyed, they were punished,” Dena shares.

This type of parenting was not working for Dena, but she didn’t know what to do. It was chaos at home and at school – they cycled through five or six daycares because no one could handle her children’s behavior. “My kids were wild. We couldn’t go into stores, there were three of them and I only had two hands.” Her kids were fighting with each other and with grandma.

One day Dena heard her mom and Ali screaming at each other. When she walked into the room, her mom was pulling Ali by the hair trying to get her to listen. Dena remembers how Ali wasn’t fazed, “Most kids would have been crying, but Ali didn’t have that sense of self-preservation.”

Her children started to talk about suicide and hurting themselves and others. Dena was at a complete loss on how to help her children. “I was this close to giving my children up for adoption because I couldn’t give them the support they needed,” Dena shares with tears streaming down her face.

Long-Needed Support

A daycare provider was able to provide a glimmer of hope and referred Dena to Nexus-FACTS Family Healing’s Preschoolers Achieving School Success (PASS) Program.

PASS therapists worked with both Dena and her children on emotional co-regulation skills. Dena quickly learned that you “cannot help regulate your kids if you can’t regulate yourself.”

Kindergarten was tough for Dane. He was suspended within the first week and by October, Dena had to “voluntarily remove” him from school to avoid expulsion. His behavior ranged from throwing chairs, to removing his clothes and urinating on the floor.

They attended family therapy sessions together and Dena has learned the Nurtured Heart Approach to help manage emotions. Nexus-FACTS therapists also become emotional translators for Dena, “I didn’t know what they needed because they wouldn’t tell me. Nexus-FACTS gave me the tools I needed so I could keep my kids.”

Making Progress

Dena is the first to admit life isn’t perfect, and COVID brought its own setbacks. Her kids often use touch to co-regulate and distance from friends and therapists hindered that, but Dena still sees progress. Play therapy helped her children thrive this year. Dane is set to start second grade in a general education classroom for the first time in the fall, and Ali made it through the school year with her supports in place.

Dena and her children have been working with our therapists and clinicians for four years and she has no plans of stopping. “Nexus-FACTS therapists and clinicians do an exemplary job of not judging. Communication is there – they tell me immediately if they are concerned. Their focus is on the harmonious family.”

All three children have been diagnosed with several mental health issues such as anxiety, PTSD, ADHD, and depression. Dena continues to learn about how these issues work inside a child’s brain.

“We’re still working on it. There will be good days and bad days, but seeing my children four years ago to now, it’s night and day. We’ll always come back to Nexus-FACTS."

*Name and some details have been changed to protect privacy.