To develop a strong resilient nervous system, children need to be around adults who are grounded and well-regulated. Babies need to co-regulate in order to develop neural networks for trust and connection. Attachment parenting emphasizes empathy and responsiveness to the child, as well as bodily closeness and skin-to-skin touch with babies. Children who are consistently cared for develop secure attachment and naturally look to other people for connection and support.

What if your parents were struggling and not well-regulated themselves? Gabor Maté was born in Hungary around the time of the Nazi invasion and his mother had to send him away for a time to keep him safe. I was born 15 months after my older sister and my mom was exhausted having two babies in diapers. What of children born into violent homes or to addicted parents? Then there are the many children whose parents were told by doctors to let their babies cry it out so as not to spoil them. Our culture is kind of a mess when it comes to secure attachment.

The stress of modern life and isolation of parents deprived of extended family support plays havoc with our nervous system and mental health. We see the impact of our dysregulated nervous systems in daily life. Learning to breathe, relax and develop a healthier relationship with thoughts cultivates strength and resilience.

Below is a guided practice where our more grounded adult self can co-regulate directly with our younger nervous system. Set yourself up in a comfortable position with a soft pillow or blanket behind you and another in front. Let your whole body relax as you focus for a few minutes on your breath. Allow your belly to soften and your breath to become continuous and smooth. Use any of the practices here to regulate your nervous system before you begin.

We do this practice with our eyes open. This can help remind us that we are here in a safe environment and that we are an adult. Let your mind wander back to earlier in your life when you were anxious or scared or when you felt alone and unloved. Notice your age and circumstances. You may have visual images or more of a felt sense. If you are thinking of a time when you turned to food, another substance or behavior for comfort, come back to just before. What are you feeling? What was it like for you?

I am alone with this. There’s no one here to support me or to help me understand. I feel confused and scared.

Let your adult self attune with your younger self. Notice the softness and support of the pillows or blanket. Connect with your breath. Keep your eyes open and your attention focused on your younger self. In this practice, we’re not asking questions or offering verbal reassurance to our younger self. From our own adult presence and awareness, we are attuning to our nervous system as it was then. We stay present and connected.

Maybe you were being yelled at or you were angry at being unfairly treated or hurt. It could be you were scared and in despair. Let yourself feel that in your body without commenting on it. We’re just here as our adult self, offering our presence and attention. If you notice your attention wandering off or you feel ungrounded, take a break for a moment to come back into your adult nervous system regulation. Relax. Breathe. Feel the support.

What kind of thoughts did you have? What did it feel like in your body to feel so alone? Maintain present moment awareness. You are an adult now. Breathe. Relax. Let your younger nervous system feel your care and support.

If you feel your attention wandering or you’re getting restless, that’s natural. What are the signals that it’s time to stop? Are you getting a food craving or thoughts? Is your body restless? Does your mind keep wandering off? Keep noticing the softness of the pillows, the feeling of being held front and back. Witness your thoughts and feelings. Let your adult self remain attuned to the nervous system of your younger self. Keep your eyes open. You are here now and you are safe.

Before finishing the practice, review what happened. Was it easy or difficult to stay attuned and present with yourself? Are you willing to do this again? Our nervous system responds to empathy and care. Over time, our younger nervous system heals and regulates with our more settled adult nervous system. This is a beautiful practice to do every day for several weeks or months. I do it for 15 minutes before bed.

This Sunday in our community class, we are going to explore this practice of gently attuning and co-regulating our adult self with our younger nervous system. This kicks off a month of Sunday classes focused on bringing kindness and presence to our relationship with our body. I hope you can join us!


Support Your Young Nervous System
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