No matter which way you try to spin it, life with children is challenging. Unfortunately children don’t come with a manual and there are no specific rule books to follow when it comes to parenting. Most of us just fly by the seat of our pants, taking each day as it comes and using trial and error in our methods of parenting. We often find ourselves flustered, overwhelmed and in doubt about, not only our parenting style, but ourselves in general. Our lives are so busy that our relationships and interactions with our children become “automatic” and we often miss opportunities to connect with them, model appropriate responses, and learn together.
“When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, its our job to share our calm, not to join their chaos” L.R. Knost
An extremely useful skill to have in parenting is the ability to manage your own emotions. If we can help ourselves to calm down in situations, we are more likely to respond in proactive ways, and our children will learn how to regulate their emotions also from modelling our responses. Yes, there will be times when your children’s behaviours will lead you to the brink of your patience, push just the right button to trigger anger and frustration, or reduce you to tears. Having such emotions, although uncomfortable, is normal and shows you are human. However, you can decide how to express these emotions through your responses, and have the power to steer a situation in a more positive direction for all involved. Once parents experience situations consistently where they respond calmly and patiently instead of yelling or becoming upset themselves, they feel a sense of empowerment and control of situations that allow them to move forward and resolve conflicts thoughtfully, rather than responding emotionally to make them more intense and chaotic.
Calm parenting does take practice and involves a few steps, but you will find it is worth the effort as a parent’s mood often sets the tone for the rest of the family.
- STOP – Recognise and acknowledge your emotions. You will feel angry, sad, scared, confused, frustrated, exasperated, and disappointed and many more uncomfortable feelings as a parent. You will also feel thrilled, proud, amazed, loved, excited, surprised, content and many other comfortable emotions. All of these emotions are normal. Our emotions are guided by what our mind tells us about a situation…our perspective, opinion, interpretation and understanding of the world around us. Emotions help us respond to situations. Making a conscious effort to identify and recognise the emotions you experience helps you to make informed decisions about how you will behave rather than just being on “auto pilot” or wearing your “[emotion]-coloured glasses” and regretting your reactions later.
- Name emotions either silently in your head or out loud, e.g. “I feel upset” and try out different feeling words to help recognise what you are feeling and when.
- Let yourself feel these emotions. We are not suggesting you bottle up emotions or deny them.
“Feelings are just visitors. Let them come and go” Mooji
- Let your emotions guide, not decide your responses. It is very difficult to manage a situation calmly and effectively when you are experiencing strong emotions. If you are unsure about whether your reaction to a situation is going to end well, take some time to calm down first. Then you are in a better position to deal with things.
- SEPARATE – Remove yourself from the situation. Most of us can’t just flick a magic switch and go from angry to calm in a few seconds (although strangely enough many people seem able to do the opposite). In practising calm parenting, which might take a long period before it becomes automatic, we need to give ourselves some space from a situation in order to quieten the emotional “alarm bells” going off, and allow our logical, problem solving part of the brain to resume command.
- Have a brief statement that you can use, even between clenched teeth, to inform others that you will be leaving to calm down. For example, “I need a moment to myself”,or “I need to walk away for a few minutes”. It is best to come up with this statement before you find yourself in an emotionally-charged situation so you don’t end up saying something you’ll later regret.
- Walk away from the situation. Go to your room, outside, into the garage, lock yourself in the bathroom, somewhere where you can be by yourself for a few minutes to safely vent your strong emotions (cue: burst into tears or silent scream with fists clenched) and calm yourself down.
- Use distraction. Doing something totally unrelated to the trigger situation can help calm our emotions.
- Once calmer, think about how to best manage the situation. When we are calmer we can usually come up with options about managing a situation that are not apparent when we are emotionally charged up.
- Return to the situation. This is really important!!! Walking away from a problem and never facing it does not address the problem. Once you feel calm enough to deal with the issue, go back and do so. At this stage you would be in a position to express your view and also listen to those of others.
- SHARE – Talk about your thoughts and feelings. Adults often say to younger children, “use your words” to let others know what they want or are feeling, yet many adults don’t think they can do the same when it comes to their own thoughts and feelings. Remember, one of the most powerful ways for a child to learn is from observation of others. That means, your kid is watching how you deal with thoughts, feelings and behaviours to inform how they will deal with theirs.
- Tell your child how you feel and what triggered that emotion. For example, “I felt so angry when I found the kitchen in a mess”.
- Listen to others’ point of view. Children are used to being talked at rather than listened to, so asking for their take on the situation will not only help them express their emotions, opinions and intentions, but will assist them to feel more connected with you and more likely to want to cooperate with a solution.
- Talk about possible solutions to a problem. Share your ideas and invite others to provide their ideas. Once you have reached a solution, implement it together.
“The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice” Peggy O’Mara
- Try to keep it respectful. Take ownership of your own thoughts and emotions, and respect that they will not necessarily be the same as others’. Keep blame to a minimum and recognise that “It is what it is” and you have choice about how to deal with that.
- Be aware that having such discussions can re-ignite strong emotions. If anyone needs to walk away again, let it happen. If anyone needs comforting, go with it. If anyone is too uncomfortable to face the situation in detail, keep it brief or provide other options to deal with the situation such as writing things down and handing it to you as a note.
- SELF CARE – Don’t forget to look after yourself! Being a parent is the toughest role in the world. You are responsible for other (mini) human beings and want those littlies to grow up as happy, well adjusted, fully functioning individuals. To do that though, it is best that we aim for those goals ourselves too. It is entirely normal to have times when you feel you could take on the world whilst changing a nappy, running a board meeting, cheering at the athletics carnival, and catering for a party of 500. However, it is also entirely normal to have times when you don’t even think you can get out of your pjs let alone referee the almighty row between your son and daughter in the living room. For most days, we want to find a happy medium and to do that, we need to look after ourselves, not just our families.
“Taking good care of You, means the people in your life will receive the best of you rather than what’s left of you.” Carl Bryan
Self care doesn’t have to be highly involved or long-winded. If you get the chance to go out with a friend, take a long leisurely walk, or landscape the garden, great! But if not, aim for a few seconds or minutes – take a deep breath, enjoy your cup of coffee, focus on what is going on outside the window and watch the clouds float by or the wind rustling the leaves….
In many ways parenting can expose our deepest selves and often our old, unresolved wounds are opened by our children and their behaviour. It may be helpful to spend some time identifying your personal triggers and, if need be, working through them with a professional. Our emotional responses to situations are usually one of the first clues about how well we are looking after ourselves. Calm parenting is about acknowledging when we have strong emotional responses to situations but not allowing those emotions to govern how we react to situations.
See http://www.raptitude.com/2015/05/basic-skill/ for more tips on recognising emotions.
See www.changespsychology.com.au for more information