Infants require adults to manage a large portion of their regulatory needs, from feeding to temperature control to the management of environmental stimuli. Infants react physically to the sensory information around them, with little capacity to change their experience. They need adults who are sensitive to their cues, responsive to their needs, and able to provide a soothing presence in times of distress.

Over time, responding to babies’ needs responsively and consistently helps them to learn that the feelings of distress they are having are not permanent. They learn that these feelings do pass. They also learn that there are both external and internal ways to manage these feelings so that these feelings do not overwhelm them. Caregiver capacity for co-regulation depends on the caregiver’s self-regulation skills.

Studies have also shown that mutual gazing between caregivers and their infants also help with emotional and attentional regulation. An early longitudinal study by Gable and Isabella has illustrated how the matching of maternal behaviours to infant’s cues predicted later regulatory skills. Alert and attentive mothers, who displayed appropriate levels of stimulation with their one-month-old infants during face-to-face interactions, adapted their behaviours to that of the infants. Findings revealed that such mothers had infants who showed better regulatory skills at 4 months of age.