Self-Regulation Training Approaches and Resources to Improve Staff Capacity for Implementing Healthy Marriage Programs for Youth (SARHM)

Research highlights self-regulation as a critical set of life skills linked to individual and collective success across the lifespan. Self-regulation is the act of managing thoughts and feelings to enable goal-directed actions like setting goals, delaying gratification, exerting willpower, exercising compassion, coping with intense emotions, and solving complex problems. Strong evidence reveals that parents, educators, and other caring adults can improve the development of self-regulation in age-appropriate ways through a supportive process called co-regulation. Co-regulation involves adults developing and maintaining warm, responsive relationships with youth; providing skills coaching that includes teaching, modeling, practice, and reflection; and creating safe, affirming, and inclusive environments that support self-regulation enactment. Two clear periods of neurobiological development prime the brain to acquire self-regulation skills: the first during early childhood, and the second in adolescence. Yet, most of the evidence on the effectiveness of strategies to support self-regulation comes from studies of only young children. Few have examined ways in which parents and other trusted adults can enhance self-regulation development among adolescents.

One way to examine the impact of caring adults on adolescent self-regulation development is to train staff who work with youth to use co-regulation in their practice. This approach targets the contexts and relationships in which youth are already actively involved. Federally funded healthy marriage and relationship education (HMRE) programming provides one such context for supporting adolescent self-regulation skill development. HMRE programs, offered to diverse youth in school or community-based settings, deliver curricula that focus on interpersonal relationships and skills needed for adulthood. These programs typically include topics like communicating with romantic partners and peers, setting life and relationship goals, managing anger and stress, or solving problems in tough situations. However, staff working in HMRE programs may not be familiar with self-regulation and co-regulation frameworks or with their pivotal role in supporting enactment of these skills among the youth they serve. For youth-serving programs, a focus on building staff co-regulation may not only improve youth engagement, learning, and outcomes, but program implementation as well.

Thus, in the fall of 2017, the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE) in the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) awarded a contract to Public Strategies, in partnership with Mathematica Policy Research and Dr. Desiree Murray with the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill to carry out Self-Regulation Training Approaches and Resources to Improve Staff Capacity for Implementing Healthy Marriage Programs for Youth (SARHM).  The project’s goal is to intentionally enhance staff capacity to promote the self-regulation development of adolescents (aged 14-24) in relationship education programs. This project will build upon lessons learned about the important role of a self-regulation framework for HMRE.

Key tasks for the SARHM team:

  • Conduct a review of literature and consultation with experts summarizing
    • the current knowledge base around adult co-regulation support for adolescents and young adults that could be applied to HMRE program contexts;
    • co-regulation training;
    • best practices for measurement and assessment of co-regulation and adolescent self-regulation;
  • Use a self-regulation and co-regulation lens to examine current youth HMRE programs and curricula and identify opportunities to integrate co-regulation strategies and approaches;
  • Refine a co-regulation model and a list of adult co-regulation and adolescent self-regulation skills to be applicable to HMRE program contexts;
  • Identify, develop, and test evidence-based and evidence-informed co-regulation training approaches and resources for youth-serving HMRE staff, using a formative evaluation approach;
  • Identify, develop, and pilot test co-regulation measures to assess the self-reported and observed behaviors of educators during HMRE workshops and, in one program, individual meetings with youth;
  • Moderate five focus groups with diverse youth to learn the language youth use to describe the systems and processes of self-regulation, how they respond to adversity, and how they stay on track with their goals;
  • Disseminate reports, briefs, resources, how-to guides, videos, and other materials to support the integration of a co-regulation framework into HMRE and other youth-serving programs.

The SARHM team used a community-based participatory research approach, applying Mathematica’s Learn, Innovate, Improve (LI2) framework, to collaborate with eight HMRE programs for youth ages 14-24 (see table for partner programs).

HMRE Program site role
Children’s Harbor of FL Formative testing of co-regulation training and strategies
More Than Conquerors Inc. of GA Formative testing of co-regulation training and strategies
Strong Families Strong Wyoming of WY Pilot testing of co-regulation measures
Family Resources Inc. of FL Pilot testing of co-regulation measures
Auburn University’s AHMREI Program of AL Pilot testing of co-regulation measures
Youth and Family Services of SD Youth focus groups on self-regulation language and experiences
Public Health Institute of CA Youth focus groups on self-regulation language and experiences
Bethany Christian Services of MI Youth focus groups on self-regulation language and experiences

Point(s) of contact: Aleta Meyer and Caryn Blitz.

Information collections related to this project have been reviewed and approved by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs under ACF’s Generic Clearances. Related materials are available at the following pages on

Pre-testing of Evaluation Data Collection Activities (OMB #0970-0355)

Formative Data Collections for Program Support (OMB #0970-0531)

Related Resources

This brief describes a draft observation tool that was developed and piloted as part of a formative study to translate theory about co-regulation into practice in youth-serving Healthy Marriage and Relationship Education (HMRE) programs.

This guide explains how integrating co-regulation approaches into youth service delivery may improve program implementation and youth outcomes. At the end of the document, you will find information from the SARHM project on specific strategies and resources you can use to improve co-regulation in your program.

This report describes how researchers in prevention science and public health partnered with practitioners who deliver youth healthy marriage and relationship education (HMRE) programs to translate the concept of co-regulation into action.