May 7, 2024

The Power of Polyvagal: Understanding How To Regulate Emotions

As a therapist working with parents and children, understanding the Polyvagal Theory has been a transformative tool in fostering healthy relationships and emotional regulation. Developed by Dr. Stephen Porges, this theory delves into how our nervous system responds to stress and safety cues, shaping our interactions with others. It’s not just a theory I’ve learned about, but a practical approach I use daily in my personal life. Before I discovered Polyvagal Theory, my anxiety used to control me (ask me about my fear of flying!); however, now that I’ve learned to regulate my nervous system, I can manage my anxiety and do things I simply couldn’t before. 

I’m including a link to one of our YouTube videos, in which I explain the three pathways of the Autonomic Nervous System in relatable terms. Feel free to check it out. 

You can find our YouTube Video here.

The Polyvagal Theory, in its simplest form, introduces three pathways that significantly influence our responses: the red (sympathetic), blue (dorsal), and green (ventral) pathways. Understanding these pathways can provide valuable insights into how parents and children connect, communicate, and regulate emotions, offering practical strategies for improving relationships and emotional wellbeing.

1. Red Pathway (Sympathetic Nervous System):

The red pathway, often associated with fight or flight responses, is activated in times of perceived danger or stress. When this pathway is dominant, individuals may exhibit hyperarousal, anxiety, and defensiveness. In parent-child relationships, a child showing red pathway activation may display tantrums, aggression, or withdrawal, signalling a need for safety and support from their caregiver. As a therapist, helping parents recognise and regulate their own red pathway responses can create a calmer and more secure environment for the child.

2. Blue Pathway (Dorsal Vagus Complex):

The blue pathway, linked to the dorsal vagus complex, is involved in immobilisation and shutdown responses. This pathway is activated in moments of extreme threat or when the person feels helpless or overwhelmed. In parent-child interactions, a child or parent experiencing blue pathway activation may seem disconnected, dissociated, or withdrawn. By fostering a sense of safety and predictability in the home, parents can support their child in returning to a state of regulated arousal and connection.

3. Green Pathway (Ventral Vagus Nerve):

The green pathway, associated with the ventral vagus nerve, is crucial for social engagement, connection, and feelings of safety. Individuals can better communicate, empathise with others, and form secure attachments when this pathway is engaged. In the parent-child relationship, the green pathway promotes bonding, attunement, and emotional regulation. By nurturing moments of shared joy, play, and positive interactions, parents can strengthen the green pathway and cultivate a secure base for their child to explore the world.

As a therapist working with parents and children, it is essential to help families recognise and navigate these three pathways within themselves and their interactions. By building awareness of how their nervous systems respond to stress and safety cues, parents can cultivate a more compassionate and connected relationship with their child. Parents also often realise that their own nervous system requires some attention and that the most powerful thing we can learn to support our children is self-regulation.

At Calm Kids, we offer Parent Coaching to support parents in strengthening their bond with their child and developing awareness of what a child’s behaviour may be trying to communicate. We also create a safe space for learning and developing strategies that support healing and connection through the nervous system. Some practical strategies for integrating Polyvagal Theory into the home may include:

1. Coregulation: Encouraging parents to coregulate with their children by modelling calmness, attunement, and empathy during moments of distress or dysregulation.

2. Sensory Activities: Exploring sensory-based activities that engage the nervous system and promote regulation, such as deep breathing exercises, grounding techniques, or sensory play.

3. Emotional Awareness: Supporting parents in recognising and validating their own emotions and those of their child, fostering a sense of emotional safety and acceptance within the family dynamic.

By incorporating the principles of the Polyvagal Theory into our work with parents and children, we empower families to build resilience, strengthen their bonds, and navigate challenges with greater understanding and compassion. Through this lens, parent-child relationships can become a source of healing, growth, and connection for both generations. And who doesn’t want more peace in their households right?

If you’d like to learn more about our Parent Coaching Program, please contact us at admin@calmkidswellbeing.com.au or 0475293027. You can also check out our website at www.calmkidswellbeing.com.au 

I hope this blog post has been helpful, and I look forward to connecting next month.

With Gratitude

Danielle Hayes