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10 Simple Ways to Use Co-Regulation in Your Discipline Efforts

Updated: Apr 10

By Dr. Ronald I. Malcolm, EdD

Parents of children with autism often wonder how to discipline their children properly. How can you make your child accountable while still meeting their social-emotional skill level?

Here are ten simple suggestions for assisting your child with regulating their behaviors:

1. Understanding co-regulation

Many parents may be unaware of the concept of co-regulation. As a parent, you can provide a warm interaction with your child with autism by coaching them to express their feelings in a positive and acceptable way. Creating a safe and comfortable home environment will allow your child to understand that you are approachable. This will assist them with modulating their behaviors. They will also come to realize that they can approach you in a non-threatening manner to gain assistance.

2. Validate your child

One of the best ways to validate your child is to actively listen to them. You can validate their feelings by letting them know you listen to them when they are upset. Simple statements such as “You seem really upset right now” or “That sounds like a tough situation to deal with” can allow your child to understand you are attempting to listen to them.

3. Assess your emotional status

It is essential that you self-evaluate your emotional status when your child is not behaving. You may feel that they are embarrassing you in public. You may feel you are being judged by other family members who wonder why your child is acting out. Regulating your own behaviors will provide modeling for your child. Yelling at them may simply cause them to shout back at you.

4. Traditional discipline

There may be times when traditional discipline methods may not work for your child with autism. You may need to think outside the box. Simple time-outs or sending your child to their room may not work. As parents, it will be important to remember that discipline doesn’t always need to be done to children. Instead, as a parent, really think about what skill you’d like for your child to develop to assist with dealing with regulating their behaviors. Instead of using a time out” or sending the child to their room, try creating a “Calming Corner” in your home. This area can be a place where your child accesses a weighted vest and/or noise-canceling headphones, uses their stress balls, listens to music, reads a book, or draws a picture. This simple idea can assist your child with modulating their behaviors.

5. Seek assistance

Remind yourself that seeking assistance is not a sign of weakness. There may be times when you are not the best person to deal with your child’s behavior. Have a support system in place. This could come in the form of assistance from another family member, a trusted friend, counselor, or another parent you know raising a child with autism.

6. Take a break

Recognize your limits. If you feel overwhelmed by the situation with your child, there may be times when you simply need to take a break from the problem to manage it better. It will provide a model for your child that not everyone handles their situation when angry. Taking a break, yourself, regaining your exposure, and then coming back later to deal with the problem may benefit everyone involved.

7. Modeling non-verbal behaviors

It will be vital to monitor your non-verbal behaviors as you attempt to deal with your child’s behavior. Facial expression, eye contact, and body language can directly impact the regulation of your child’s behavior. Be sensitive to these issues, as your child with autism may be copying your non-verbal behaviors when addressed with a stressful situation.

8. Self-regulation strategies

You may need to work with your child with autism on self-regulating their behaviors. In some situations, these strategies may become “proactive” instead of “reactive.” They may assist in the behaviors reducing in their frequency, duration, and intensity. Your child could use or be exposed to any of these simple strategies:

  • Explain to them how to ask for a break

  • Encourage them to get a drink of water

  • Model for them how to ask for help

  • Teach them how to take deep breaths, or

  • Remind them that they could ask to listen to some music to relax.

These are just a few ideas for assisting your child with autism in ways to regain their composure. Throughout the entire process, it will be essential for you to continually model “self-respect.” Even when children are upset, they still want to be accepted and loved.

9. Practice

Some parents like to use social stories to teach them valuable lessons. While social stories are a great resource, you can model appropriate strategies by acting them out with your child. For example, you can act out a situation with your child and see what methods they employ to handle the make-believe situation. You can also demonstrate a situation with a behavior response that is incorrect and see if your child with autism can identify the errors occurring. Some children love using puppets, while others like to use dolls or action figures to act out social situations.

10. Include your child

Your child with autism needs to be involved in the process of correcting their behavioral errors. Don’t assume they know how to correct a situation or apologize. You may need to model the situation for them and walk them through the process of how to conduct an apology appropriately. Don’t expect perfection the first time they apologize. Practicing this situation will help to improve your child’s skills over time.

Also, allow them to find their own “voice.” Let them decide how to correct their behavior or a problem they may have created. It will assist your child in processing the situation and focus on possible solutions. They are more likely to correct the situation if they are actively involved in the process themselves instead of feeling like it is part of their punishment.

For free resources on managing diagnoses, mobility, and accessibility support, self-advocacy, personal rights, educational rights, occupational therapy, mental health support, schools and camps, transitioning to adulthood, job opportunities, financial planning, supporting the family/caretakers, subscribe to Exceptional Needs Today. Subscribing to our award-winning e-magazine is free, and it enables us to connect with more readers, helping us support the special needs community more effectively. We publish a new issue every quarter - delivered straight to your email.

Dr. Ronald I. Malcolm, EdD, is an Assistant Director of Special Education for a public school district, an Associate Faculty Member with the University of Phoenix, and a Special Graduate Faculty member at the University of Kansas. He has bachelor’s level degrees in English and Special Education. He holds master’s level degrees in Counseling, Special Education, and School Administration. His doctorate degree is from Northern Arizona University in Educational Leadership. His post-graduate degrees are in Positive Behavior Supports and Autism Spectrum Disorders. He has worked for the past 37 years with students between the ages of three to 21 with various health-related concerns in both school and community-based settings.

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